Independent TD Shane Ross put some hard questions to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in the Public Accounts Committee this morning.
He played good Ross, bad Ross.
Including asking whether Kieran Boylan (without naming him) was an informant or not.
Shane Ross: “I find the answers which you’ve given to the two main points, which were raised by Deputy [John] Deasy, which is basically the two areas which are currently in the news somewhat difficult to accept. And maybe you can explain them to me. The two inquiries that we’re talking about. One is the report into the points system and the quashing of the points and the other, which was held by the ombudsman into the activities of the Gardaí in the case of drug trafficker informant. They came up with staggeringly different results. The inquiry you held yourself, into the pooints system, pretty much gave your guys a pretty clean bill of health. The inquiry held by the Ombudsman into the drug trafficking informant and the activities of the gardai is devastating indictment of the activities of the guards. One was independent adn the other wasn’t independent. I wonder what would have happened if the Ombudsman had been investigating the points, or the penalty points system. And teh Gardai had been investigating the issue of the traffic, drug trafficker because you rubbished that report, in effect. And said it’s wrong. And those, some of us would have real serious reservations about the fact that you had an independent, a non-independent investigation, internal investigation into very serious allegations. Could you tell us why you didn’t invite an independent body to investigate about the penalty points allegations and indeed why you didn’t, yourselves, interview many of those making those allegations against you?”
Martin Callinan: “Thanks very much, deputy. Well, of course, they are two separate and distinct entities and I’ve already answered, fulsomely, in relation to the particular investigation that was conducted by the Ombudsman Commission. I’ve also indicated to the committee that I intend to respond very fulsomely to the minister, in relation to that report. I certainly didn’t rubbish the report. But that doesn’t mean that I have a contrary view, as to the way matter should be handled and you know I think it’s very, very important Deputy when we’re dealing with intelligence and the product that flows from individuals who are providing that type of intelligence, it is extremely important to the citizens of this State that there are guarantees there that are available to the people who provide that information and the first instance because, if not, we all know what the consequences are and we have seen over the last 48 hours the level of violence and difficulty that we face on a daily basis out there. It is certainly the case in relation to the Ombudsman Commission inquiry that their file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, an independent statutory body set up to adjudicate on wrongdoing and criminality and we know the answer in relation to that. They have indicated that they’re not pursuing the issue of discipline so therefore they move towards the position that we now find ourselves in, in me responding to basically, what’s in essence, allegations that we, you know, we somehow or other prevented them from doing their business much more quickly than they did. And that’s. in essence, where we are, when you break it all down. So I have a difference of opinion in that context but I want to assure you Deputy. And I’ve said this already and I don’t mind going back on the record: I absolutely subscribe to the view that the Garda Síochána’s Garda Ombudsman Commission is a body with statutory powers that is entitled to see all of the information and all of the intelligence we have, sensitive and otherwise. I have made this clear to the chairman of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman’s Commission on many, many occasions. The issue isn’t whether they should or shouldn’t see the documentation. The issue here is how that information is handled in the context of their responsibilities. I have huge responsibilities in this area, deputy, as I’m sure you appreciate. I also have the reputation as An Garda Síochána to defend and uphold, in the context of the other security services that we engage in, both in Europe and internationally. And, you know, there are very, very strict rules of engagement, applying to the release of information and documents that are passed on from one jurisdiction to another. And I must be careful how I approach these issues. So I think there’s no, there’s no dispute with us there. But, certainly, to say that I’m rubbishing the report, no I’m not. Certainly to say that these negotiations and these differences of opinion that we had as to how we should judge, transact our business in this very sensitive area, certainly that was somewhat protracted. There’s no issue there. But there’s certainly equally so, there’s no issue that whatever needed to be shared was shared. I know the Ombudsman’s Commission have the view that that should have been chaired an awful lot earlier and all of those things. But I certainly don’t want and I don’t think it would serve the public for me to be involved in a spat with another statutory agency of the State. And my view, in public and in private and everywhere else has been that An Garda Síochána must assist the Garda Síochána Ombudsman’s Commission with their inquiries and with their investigation. That’s clearly my view. My colleagues would be well aware of my views in this matter.”
Ross: “Thank you, Commissioner. You’re in a spat whether you like it or not and you know they found quite blatantly…I mean it’s all very well for you to say, you know you were very cooperative and there’s no row going on. They said there was an absence of training in this area. They said there was a culture of non-adherence to the guidelines. They said that the release of papers was highly unsatisfactory. And they blame you for the delay in what happened. And to, to, to, to just palm it over and say ‘OK, you know, we are cooperating’. It’s quite obvious that they found the Gardaí were totally and utterly uncooperative on this basis. I’m just going to ask you: what are you going to do about this? Because, I suspect, and I’ve reason to believe that this isn’t the only case where they’ve found you like this.”
Callinan: “Thanks, Deputy. I suppose, let me start in reverse if I may. It is clear that since the establishment of the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission we have been involved in excess of 3,900 investigations, either supervised or not supervised so, I mean, there’s cooperation for you.You raised the issue of ‘a spat’. Perhaps people are entitled to their opinion but the bottom line here, Deputy, is the Covert Human Intelligence System, as we have it set up, is I believe as strong a system a you can have in place.There is no such thing as a perfect system and I think we all subscribe to that view. But these are difficult, difficult areas. And we have provided all of the procedural guidelines and the procedures to be followed in the context of that. I don’t know where this is coming from but there’s a culture of non-adherence. Of course there will be situations from time to time where members of the Garda Síochána are contacted quickly about particular issues and they have to be dealt with. And you’d expect that that would be the case. You would expect that would be the case. But you know, within all of this, there is independent, judicial oversight. And, these are matters, when you speak about the seriousness and you’re absolutely right to raise it, it’s an issue for all of us.The importance of getting this thing can’t be underestimated. And we are trying, very, very hard to ensure with the procedures, the policy, the regulations that we have in place that that is happening. It’s not perfect but we have studied quite a few systems to arrive at the point where we are now and we believe, we believe that, within reason, this is the appropriate system for handling informants and we also believe that it’s sufficiently robust enough to provide a level of reassurance both to our members and to the people we’re dealing with and their families that they can engage with us, in confidence. And that will form part, Deputy, of my report to the minister. So that’s where it is I’m afraid.”
Ross: “OK. Because we’ve a very serious situation of drug trafficking here with someone who was caught with €1.7million, nearly €2million worth of heroin and coke, and then there was a plea of, not, not to prosecute for some reason. Is that what happened in that particular case?”
Callinan: “Well it’s a matter of public record and, as I’ve said earlier on Deputy, my views have been highlighted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and also to the Ombudsman’s Commission so they have my views on…”
Ross: “Yeah. So it is the case that, that is the case, that and they find that particular, that particular episode was not properly handled. Could you tell me. The informant was, according to the report, was run “off the book”. What does that mean? “
Callinan: “With respect, chairman. These are very, very sensitive areas, I don’t want to engage in this particular line. We have never, ever, as you know Deputy, indicated that the person is or isn’t an informant.That has always been our view. We have never. You won’t find a Garda Síochána indicating anywhere that the particular person that was subject to this investigation was a Garda informant. You won’t find a Garda Síochána saying that. So…”
Callinan: “We have to be careful. I’m not trying to avoid your question, Deputy but I’m not sure how I can..Perhaps if we can generalise it or come around it in some other way, I might be able to…”
Ross: “OK. To generalise it, do you run, do you run informants off the book?”
Ross: “You don’t. So that couldn’t be possible in this case then. Would that be right?”
Callinan: “No, no, you’re asking the question, Deputy, do we…the regulations do not provide for that.”
Ross: “So you, so it couldn’t be possible in this case then?”
Callinan: “I’ve already indicated chairman that this isn’t an area that I can go into, to be fair you know, with respect, we’re dealing with a person’s life here. The…”
Ross: “I don’t want to endanger a life but I do want to see if you’re breaching your own regulations.”
Callinan: “Well I mean you’ve clearly got the report now, it’s in the public domain and views have been expressed as to what happened. I cannot go there. I just cannot go there.”
Ross: “How do we find out in that case if there are no-go areas for us? How can we find out whether you’re adhering to your guidelines or not?”
Callinan: “Well I think it’s important, Chairman, to make the point that we have very clear guidelines, rules and regulations, in relation to the running of informants. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is entitled to come in and investigate any cases where they believe there’s a breach of those guidelines. And that’s how you will find out if matters aren’t the way they should be. But they’re…we must be fair here. There is a judicial report which says that substantially, substantially, and to be fair to the, the High Court judge who has looked at this, that’s as much as he can do, saying substantially the regulations are being complied with. You will never, ever get a system that is entirely bullet-proof and I think that’s a very reasonable point. But I can’t, Deputy, with the greatest of respect, I cannot start commenting on individuals who may or who may not have been an informant with An Garda Síochána.”
Ross: “No, but I mean I think if we get to, if we get to a situation. And maybe, maybe I’ve got this wrong. If we get to a situation, whereby you can go back and say ‘sorry, we can’t go there’, even though it’s significant, and I’m asking you if you’re breaching your own guidelines. You’re saying ‘I can’t go there’. That’s a fairly dangerous situation. It means that you’re not accountable in certain areas.”
Callinan: “Well, Deputy, I couldn’t disagree with you more. We’re fully accountable to GSOC and to the minister and to the Government. I’m very, very clear about my role, responsibility both to my own members, to informants and to the public generally. And I have no intention of transgressing.”
Ross: “I have to disagree. OK. That’s fine. I mean GSOC is not happy with you. Let’s be honest about it. They’re not happy. They’re not happy campers. They’re the people you’re accountable to. They don’t seem to think that you have accounted in time or that you’ve adhered to the guidelines.”
Callinan: “Yes, that is substantially what they’ve indicated.”
Ross: “That is correct.”
Callinan: “Yeah, but I will be submitting a report to the minister, in course, to deal with all those aspects, particularly in the context of the Covert Human Intelligence System and its effectiveness and what I see as being pretty, a pretty good attempt at dealing with the very, very sensitive issue of informants and how we handle them. And I think the empirical evidence, if you look at the amount of protections that we’ve had in recent times, you will see, at a glance, the evidence and product of that CHIS system and what it has done for the citizens of this State. In the drugs area alone last year, there were over a €1million, 100million, recovered, people before the courts. You look at what’s happening on the security side. This year alone I think we’ve had 20 people or so before the Special Criminal Court charged with very, very serious offences. None of these things come about by driving around a patrol car and getting lucky. That doesn’t happen. So there’s evidence of just how effective the use of the intelligence system is. But, of course, as you rightly point out Deputy it’s absolutely of critical importance that we, that I, as Commissioner, my senior management team and that all officers under my command do nothing that would offend against the rules of engagement in terms of handling informants.”
More to follow.
Previously: “Black Ops Being Run Off The Books”