Rory O’Neill, Mick Wallace, Ann Marie Hourihane, Louise McSharry and Jim Carroll at the Banter Review of 2014 earlier this week
On Monday night, the Banter Review of 2014 took place at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin during which host Jim Carroll spoke with Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, Independent TD Mick Wallace, journalist Ann Marie Hourihane and 2FM presenter Louise McSharry.
During the debate, Mr Wallace spoke about the events over the last year regarding the gardaí and how former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the former Justice Minister Alan Shatter lost their positions. He also spoke about the role of the media in the Garda story.
Towards the end of the debate, Mr Wallace claimed: “There are people in the top echelons of the Garda Síochána that have made loads of money from the movement of drugs.”
While reading a transcript of some of the debate, readers may wish to bear in mind that, in May – when Mr Wallace raised the case of former garda Jack Doyle – he claimed a garda involved in his case is a current Assistant Garda Commissioner.
Jim Carroll: “Shattergate, let’s talk a bit about Shattergate, Mick. That whole GSOC bugging thing, the gardaí, it’s like, you know, you were instrumental in bringing that story to the light. Did it take a lot out of you? Did it take a lot out of you that people didn’t believe what was going on? Did it take a lot out of you that, watching what was being happening to the two whistleblowers and the fact that there was only yourself and Clare Daly, and maybe a handful of others in the Dáil who were bringing this up, week in, week out?”
Mick Wallace: “Yeah, well, it was tough going for about nine months all right. We started in October 2012 and we were fairly well rubbished by the media, right across the board and nobody was really interested in the story and it’s like as if no-one believed us or believed the whistleblowers at the time. And it was, it’s a bit mad how it all worked out in the end. You know, it was about 19 months afterwards that [former Justice Minister Alan] Shatter went and it was kind of unusual the way it all happened because Shatter, truth be told, was actually one of the most able ministers in there. He was very, very strong, very intelligent. He was really very good at a lot of the jobs he was doing but, for some strange reason, he refused to deal with the challenges of policing and we brought more and more of the issues to the table and, to tell you the truth, we didn’t bring a quarter of what information we actually have from serving guards, ex-guards, members of the public of some terrible things that have been going on and still going on in the country that involve malpractice on behalf of the guards and corruption.
It was unusual…I think part of Shatter’s problem was that, if you watch back and we had some fantastic, we used to really enjoy him because he was great value, he was. And it was always a real battle with him because he is very smart and he was real, he knew his job inside out and it was brilliant just to stand up and go at him and let him come back at us because he invariably did. I think the fact that, especially, myself and Ming [former TD, now MEP Luke Flanagan], it was myself, Ming and Clare Daly really that dealt with the issue from the start and Shatter really had a problem with the idea that myself and Ming, with our long hair and the jeans and we were kind of rough looking as far as he was concerned, you know, and the idea that we had the audacity to actually even challenge him and his job was an issue for him. And I think it may have been part of his problem. I mean whenever we raised any aspect of it and whenever we threw any bait out there, he always went for it. He was fearless and he couldn’t get at us enough, right? It was great.”
Ann Marie Hourihane: “Do you miss him?”
Wallace: “I do miss him, yeah.”
Carroll: “You do sound like a scorned lover there.”
Wallace: “But, it’s actually, the funny part about it is right, but listen it was highlighted that our police force is dysfunctional and indisciplined and the truth of the matter is that it’s the same today. I have to say Frances Fitzgerald is a woman that I really like but she hasn’t made one iota of a difference and we’ve seen bugger all legislation since Shatter went. We’ve seen or just kicked the can down the road.
There’s a queue of Garda stuff coming down the tracks and it’s all been pushed out, pushed out, pushed out, they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to talk about it. And, we’ve tried to raise different issues, for example with the topical issue thing, it’s where you put in an issue to discuss before 10am on any morning. But she refuses to take it from us whereas Shatter was, ‘no bother, let me at ’em’. So there was far more discussion about it when he was there.
The latest reports, I mean we’ve had about seven reports at this stage and each one seems to be worse than the next. In the last few weeks, we have raised some of the issues about, they’ve changed the legislation on GSOC but it is so disappointing that it’s frightening and the new police authority, which isn’t going to be independent now is going to be a complete waste of time, it’s been a huge disappointment but it’s interesting – you were talking about water there at the start, and about how one issue can get carried away and the media go hell for leather for it but they have completely lost interest in policing. Now whether we can get it back remains to be seen but I’m convinced that if our media were really strong and independent themselves, I think they could play a massive role in making society better in Ireland. I think that they have massive potential to make a big difference and I don’t think that’s a potential that’s realised.
Since I went into the Dáil, a couple of things I suppose have disappointed me more than others but obviously the politicians spend most of their energies trying to get reelected is obviously one, in everything they say or do, but I have been disappointed with how the media operates. I think it leaves a lot to be desired and I think if any of ye, I mean obviously, I do, the Irish Times is obviously the best paper that we have. But if you go into the Dáil of a Wednesday morning at 9.30am and stay there until 9.30pm at night, which it’s a 12-hour day on a Wednesday, you go in there and listen for yourself as to what actually happens in there and then read the Dáil pages the next day – I don’t think it reflects what actually happened in there but there’s different forces all the time at play, I’m not blaming necessarily the journalists. I mean media is in a difficult place. Obviously the fact that 40% of it is controlled by Denis O’Brien is a big issue, it’s a big problem. But even RTÉ, I do not think that they challenge the Government in a manner that they should anymore…”
Wallace: “Sadly, the problems in our police force are much worse than you know and, as I said to you earlier, we haven’t actually put out a quarter of the stories into the public domain but there is a serious amount of the drug trade at the moment in Ireland controlled by our police force which might frighten some of ye and not more of ye. We’ve had guards come to us and tell us and try to get us to deal with it. We’ve raised some of those issues and they haven’t got much traction yet. Some of them we haven’t. But it’s, I’m telling ye, it’s, it’s the big problem is that the structure at the top is very disappointing. Most guards will admit to you that the guys who got promotion over the last 20 years were not the ones who should have got promotion most of the time, not all the time, but a lot of the time – the wrong ones got promoted. And the nest that [former Garda Commissioner Martin] Callinan built around him is problematic and we thought that, and most of the people, people like Professor Dermot Walsh, who would probably be the most renowned expert on policing in Ireland, he was adamant as well that the hierarchy had to go the same as they got rid of them in Northern Ireland. But we’ve chosen to actually keep them in place and I can tell you, from many of our stories and accounts we’ve got from people and from guards, many of the hierarchy have unclean hands.”
Carroll: “Does that include the story that you were saying there about the drugs trade, how high does it go up?”
Wallace: “There are people in the top echelons of the Garda Síochána that have made loads of money from the movement of drugs, yes, there is. And that’s problematic. Noirin O’Sullivan is a very presentable appointment. She is charming and she’s smart and she comes across well. So, she’s actually a very good appointment for the Government. But a very bad appointment for the future of the guards in that I’d not many people would expect serious change. We’ll see surface changes but we won’t see anything like the kinds of changes that are actually required if we are to develop a police force that we would like to have. A massive problem with policing in Ireland is that it’s very heavily politicised and this is going to continue unfortunately – they’ve just picked their hand, they’ve handpicked somebody to head the independent police authority, it was a non-transparent, secretive selection system.
They refused to pick an outsider to lead the force forward and they’ve, if you look at the new rules that came in around GSOC, the ones they’re going to bring in round the police authority, the one common trend running through it all is that the Government’s control of policing stays well in place. Now this is a big problem. If the guards couldn’t get an hour’s overtime for the last three years to do ordinary civil work, there’s been no end and no limit to what guards were available to go to water protests and to the installation of water meters by a private contractor. This was not made by a Garda force, this is a political appointment, a political decision. So when you have the Government of the day, the politicians of the day that are in charge, pulling the strings of the guards, that’s not a good way for a police force to work.
A healthy police force would make their own decisions, they would be transparent in how they’d behave, there’d be human rights-proofed and they would be accountable to the citizens of Ireland, rather than to the politicians who have the majority in the Dáil when this is what you have at the moment and that represents no accountability worth talking about. And that’s how Shatter got in trouble because it actually went back to him. The Garda Commissioner is answerable to the parliament. The parliament is controlled by the Government of the day who have a majority. The Government invests the power over the Commissioner in the Minister for Justice. If Shatter had stood up and said that the Commissioner was a bold boy it would be Shatter’s fault, it would be his problem. He couldn’t hold the Commissioner to account, he couldn’t criticise him, it would be same as criticising himself and that’s… The problem…Shatter would still be in power if our police force wasn’t so politicised.”
Audience member [Irish Times journalist Dan Griffin]: “Mick, that claim you made earlier about senior gardaí benefitting from the drugs trade sounds fairly damning, much more so than the penalty points controversy. Why haven’t you gone public with that? Can you not stand it up? Or do you plan to go public with it properly?’
Wallace: “Ok. We actually have but you haven’t heard about it. Two weeks ago, I brought up in the Dáil about a guard in a station in Mullingar. For two years he watched a senior guard in his barracks go to Dublin once a week and bring drugs back in his squad car and store them in the barracks and he used keep them there and give them to the drug dealer, who was a woman that he was having a relationship with, and she was the main drug dealer in the area. And he’d give them to her as she needed them and it was used as a depot for the drugs. A guard came forward, still doing his job, and he wrote out, he came to us with his story. We raised it in the Dáil about nine months ago. About six months ago, GSOC started looking into it. Noirïn O’Sullivan said she was very concerned about it. Six months have gone and, last week, he rang us again, two weeks ago, he contacted us and told us that he was being intimidated at work. His life was being made hell and he’s heard nothing back, despite the six months of work being done into his case.”
Griffin: “But is it systematic, across the guards or is it just that one kind of incident that you’re aware of?”
Wallace: “No, I brought up an incident last year which you probably didn’t hear about either, a guard in Cork, was based in Cork. He watched drugs being taken off boats and gardai supervised the offloading of them. He went to his chief superintendent and told him the story and he was told, ‘oh god, you better go to Dublin with that story’. He went to Dublin with the story and, the following week, he told his story in Phoenix Park. He went back home the next day and he turned up for work and a guard blocked his way into the garda station and said to him, ‘oh jaysus, Jack, you don’t work here’. [Jack said] ‘what do you mean?’ [Garda said] ‘Jack, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, it’s all over, it’s all over but listen everything will be taken care of, you’ll get your redundancy, the whole lot.’ He never worked for the guards again. I brought that story to the Dáil twice in the last 12 months but it hasn’t, you haven’t seen it because it hasn’t been covered by the media. And there’s a lot of other stories. There’s a number of cases where guards take, they capture drugs. We know of a case where drugs were coming in, maybe five suitcases of cocaine might come in and it would be organised to let four through, the guards would catch one suitcase with some chaps that would be heading off in one direction with the suitcase. Their leader was never caught. And the suitcase they would catch, they would bring it and there’d be a big show and the media would be brought down to show, ‘oh, there was a big drugs find yesterday and here’s all the stuff’. The stuff goes back in a box and fellas have come to us and told us that they were dealing in drugs, they were caught by the cops, they weren’t turned in and the cop says, ‘we’ll be back to ya’. They come back two weeks later and say, ‘here, sell this for us and bring us back the money’. There’s a good bit of that going on.'”
Carroll:“When you go through that, it sounds like something out of Love/Hate, you know? It sounds totally utterly unreal but yet it’s been witnessed and these people are standing over it?”
Wallace: “Yeah, look it, and the reason there’s so much problems in the guards is because the hierarchy is wrong. It starts at the top, not the bottom and it’s a big problem and I tell you what, most people in Ireland, there’s a lot of people in Ireland who don’t have a problem with the guards because the guards don’t give them a problem but if you are on the wrong side of that line, and God help you if you are, but if you are, then life can be difficult in dealing with our police force. If you’re on the right side of that line, getting your penalty points terminated is only one of the small advantages that you actually inherit. So the police force is something different for different people. There’s a great line in one of Bruce Springsteen’s songs, he said ‘Down here it’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line’. Well there’s a lot of people on the wrong side of the line with our police force I’m afraid.”
A podcast of the full debate will be posted on This Is Banter on Monday.
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