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Garda watchdog ‘deeply troubled’ by repeated shortcomings

The Garda’s official watchdog has declared it is “deeply troubled” by the force’s repeated shortcomings.

In a blistering broadside, chairwoman of the newly-established Policing Authority Josephine Feehily voiced dismay at the “familiarity” of failures after countless tribunals and inquiries into police wrongdoing.

Almost ten years on from the Morris Tribunal, Ms Feehily said the authority was launching its own broad-based examination of standards within the force.

She has also ordered Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan before two meetings next month to answer – in public – questions raised by the O’Higgins Commission report, the latest inquiry into wrongdoing.

Furthermore, Ms O’Sullivan has been told to hire a team of outside specialists to carry out an independent review of the culture within the force.

“The recurring deficiencies in policing performance evidenced in the O’Higgins final report are deeply troubling,” said Ms Feehily after a meeting on Thursday evening with Ms O’Sullivan.

“We wish to express our particular concern for the impact on the victims of crime who were entitled to expect a professional and competent service from the Garda Siochana and who didn’t get it.”

Ms Feehily said there is “deep unease” in the Policing Authority about the organisation and management culture within the Garda including how whistleblowers are treated.

Such is the public disquiet surrounding the findings of the O’Higgins Commission, the watchdog said it is concerned good work being done by every day gardai is being “set to nought”.

The Policing Authority has vowed to hold Garda top brass to account over the O’Higgins findings at public meetings on June 13 and June 30.

Ms Feehily said this was just the first step in oversight and “there is clearly a lot of work to be done.”

The hard-hitting statement came hours after the Government was urged to set up a new judge-led inquiry into allegations that “rogue” officers were unofficially running criminals as informants.

Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny said most of the allegations, some of which were first raised publicly two years ago, were already with the Department of Justice.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD claimed two officers with young families accidentally discovered senior gardai had been aware of a threatened attack on their homes by a criminal gang.

He said the information had been withheld from the gardai for weeks.

Mr Kenny claimed one of the gang members was working off the books as an informant for other officers but had also been reporting his criminal activity to the official Garda informant system, the Covert Handling of Intelligence Sources known as Chis.

The TD said he also had serious concerns about the disappearance of Pat Heeran, 48, from Aughavas, Co Leitrim, in 2011.

Mr Kenny said that between the time of his disappearance and gardai launching an investigation into a suspected abduction, the man’s house had been broken into and the potential for forensic evidence had been lost.

“It is now known that a Garda informant was among the last people to be in Pat Heeran’s company before he disappeared,” the Sinn Fein TD said.

“The question is was the protection of informants put before the proper investigation into the disappearance?.”

Mr Kenny raised the whistleblower claims in the Dail during the debate into the O’Higgins Commission which upheld a catalogue of bad policing in the Cavan and Monaghan district after a lengthy battle to expose it by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

“At the outset I want to clearly state that in my area of Leitrim, as in other places, the vast majority of guards are doing their job honestly and diligently,” Mr Kenny said.

The Sinn Fein representative said he had been given information from both serving and former gardai.

“Central to the many events I will now outline is the allegation that gardai were engaging informants who were active criminals which was in breach of the rules of the Chis programme,” he said.

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“Another allegation is that some gardai were running their own informants outside of the official Chis programme.

“The third allegation is that some rogue gardai have used informants, or criminals they have control over, to set up and entrap people for crimes and then prosecute these people.”

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