Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris today defended an ongoing so-called corruption probe into members of the Limerick Garda Division after hearing a Government TD claim that it “is tearing many lives apart”.
In Ennis to address the Clare Joint Policing Committee (JPC), Commissioner Harris said that he understands how a crime investigation is stressful for members of the force “but this work must be done”.
Asked to respond to comments made by Deputy Cathal Crowe of Fianna Fáil on the impact the investigation into the alleged treatment by certain Gardai in the Limerick Garda Division of fixed charge penalties, Commissioner Harris said: “We must make sure that people can trust on An Garda Siochana to be entirely trustworthy and honest in their dealings with them.”
He said: “Any of these investigations we undertake are essential for public confidence in the organisation but also that they are expedited and dealt with as quickly as possible.”
At the meeting, Deputy Crowe told Commissioner Harris that he has to move the investigation on “and needs to engage with this more effectively”.
Deputy Crowe said eight members of the force in Limerick have been suspended as part of an investigation by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI) “concerning a charge of corruption against many in the Limerick Garda division”.
He claimed that 60 Gardai in Limerick are being investigated concerning the alleged ‘squaring off’ of fixed charge penalty notices.
Deputy Crowe told the meeting that the probe “encompasses too many people and is harrowing for the families involved”.
Cloud of suspicion
Deputy Crowe told Commissioner Harris that many of the Gardai are young Gardai and unable to progress in their career and transfer back to the station in their home patch “because there is a cloud of suspicion hanging over them”.
The Clare TD said: “Like any judicial process this needs to be speeded up. If they are guilty they need to be found guilty, and they need to face the sanctions that are appropriate but if they are not guilty they need that chance to be before a court and to prove themselves.”
Deputy Crowe said: “This is tearing many lives apart and you as a commissioner need to engage with this more effectively.”
The deputy said that if there was a culture in the past of a county hurling star or a politician being pulled over by a Garda and maybe their fines were waived and what not “that was wrong and I get the reason why An Garda Siochana want to curb that”.
On the issue of Garda discretion. Deputy Crowe said: “The reality was that for many years, Gardai were able to square off a charge for a road traffic offence, that seems to be gone now in the Limerick Garda division.”
Commissioner Harris said that he took very seriously the comments concerning the expediting of the investigation.
He said that he is regularly updated on the investigation and told Deputy Crowe “I am personally engaged with these matters”.
Speaking generally, Commissioner Harris said that a process is in place where Fixed Charge Penalty Notices (FCPN) can be examined.
He said: “The difficulty is the difference between discretion and preference. I would say to every member of An Garda Siochana that properly exercised discretion is available to you but make sure that it is not preference.”