» Clare TD compares investigation into Limerick gardai to Salem witch trials
Deputy Cathal Crowe
Clare TD compares investigation into Limerick gardai to Salem witch trials
September 23, 2021
A Clare TD has compared a Garda investigation into alleged squaring away of road traffic offences in the Limerick Garda Division, to the Salem witch trials, which saw 20 people executed in the Massachusetts town in the 1690s, reports David Raleigh.
Eight gardai suspended on November 8 last year remain so, pending the outcome of the two-year investigation which is being led by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI).
Clare Deputy Cathal Crowe said gardai have come to him and told him they are concerned at the nature of the probe.
Gardai have privately expressed fear they may face the threat of suspension or court for using discretion when dealing with members of the public. Deputy Crowe said, “You could almost call the Limerick Garda Division ‘Salem’ at the moment, because there’s a form of witch-trial being going on for the last two years there.” “Eight members suspended, 60 garda phones confiscated, morale has never been lower,” he added.
“All of this centres around discretion, and I’m sure, like me, we all have a tendency every so often of going a little bit heavy on the accelerator and you see a blue light and you pull in. In that moment that a guard pulls you over, they have the power of discretion, which has been a feature of An Garda Siochana, policing by consent; it’s taught, it’s part of the curricular substance in Templemore (Garda Training College) right back since 1922, the foundation of the force,” Deputy Crowe said, speaking in the Dail.
“It’s part of what (gardai) learn, discretion is not defined, and therein lies the problem, and what has happened in Limerick over the last two years is that gardai are told you (that if you) use discretion, you are wrong and you’re suspended.”
Arguing that discretion and favouritism are not the same, Deputy Crowe said, “We need to move way beyond the model of squaring off a ticket for the Monsignor or the politician or the county hurler – I think everybody agrees with that. But we don’t want to be witch-trialling, which has been happening in Limerick over the last two years.”
Mr Crowe, who was speaking during a second stage Dail debate on the Garda Siochana (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill, said the Garda code of “policing by consent” was being eroded, due to rank and file members fearing they can no longer use it.
He said the garda probe was “creating bad will” between gardai and the public.
“Drew Harris (Garda Commissioner) is a good man, but the model of policing I believe he is seeking to replicate is that which operates in the six counties of Northern Ireland; that is quite different, they drive down roads by night in armored vehicles; they’re armed; it’s very different to the model of policing we have in (southern) Ireland.”
Limerick Independent TD, Richard O’Donoghue, said the eight suspended gardai had not been replaced.
He said gardai are taught by management to use what he referred to as an “L7” or “a square” when dealing with “exceptional or hardship circumstances”.
“Is that no longer the case, do gardai have discretion in hardship cases anymore? Three years have been wasted on investigations of misdemeanors that gardai were actually trained to do at Templemore,” said Deputy O’Donoghue.
“We are now prosecuting gardai for doing the job they were trained to do. I am not condoning any garda breaking the law outside of that context,” added Deputy O’Donoghue.
The President of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), Frank Thornton, said gardai had been offered psychological counseling.
In a circular sent to the group’s 600 Limerick members last July, Mr Thornton highlighted what he described as the “appalling treatment” of gardai in the division, who he said “have been subjected to what we perceive as a witch-hunt rather than a legitimate investigation”.
“We are all feeling dismayed, disillusioned, and frustrated,” Mr Thronton added.
When asked for comment, a spokesman for Garda Headquarters said discretion remained “an important facet” in the force’s “long held and understood tradition of policing by consent”.
Commenting generally and not in relation to any specific individual case, Garda HQ said there should be no confusion amongst rank and file Gardai about whether or not they can use discretion.
“This exercise of discretion is entirely different from any tendency to show preference,” said the Garda HG spokesman.
“There has been some conflation of these two concepts in public commentary and it is necessary that the important distinction be emphasised. The law binds us all equally, and while there is a proper place for the exercise of discretion in determining the best course of action where an immediate decision is required, being well known or knowing a guard, of whatever rank, is not a pathway to more favourable treatment,” they said.
“Gardaí are trained to apply the law and deliver policing services in a fair and equitable manner. The application of the law is facilitated by the Garda’s discretionary policing powers underpinned by the Code of Ethics and Garda Decision Making Model.”