Mick Clifford: Something unprecedented is going on with the gardaí in Limerick

At a time when Garda morale is very low, the issue of four gardaí suspended from the force for over three years without being charged gives rise to questions around proportionality
Mick Clifford: Something unprecedented is going on with the gardaí in Limerick

In the Four Courts, four gardaí suspended for over three years hope to have the suspensions declared illegal.

The four gardaí sat across a bench, directly behind their legal representatives. On another bench there were more gardaí, all in civilian clothes, there to offer support.

It was a strange sight; this many members of An Garda Síochána attending court in a private capacity.

An official from the Garda Representative Association was also present, again an unusual happening.

Something is going on with the gardaí in Limerick and all the signs are that it is unprecedented.

The occasion was Court 9 in the Four Courts of Dublin last Tuesday. Four gardaí who have been suspended from the force for over three years are making an application to have their suspensions declared illegal.

Paul Baynham is the garda bringing the action that was at hearing, but Alan Griffin, Niall Deegan, and John Shanahan are engaged in similar actions. All four listened as lawyers batted back and forth about their present and their future.

Across the Liffey, in Leinster House, while the court hearing was going on, the plight of the four got a mention in the Seanad.

The timing was coincidental. The Seanad debate was mainly concerned with the performance of the gardaí in Dublin on the night of the riots. Then Timmy Dooley, a Fianna Fáil senator from Co Clare, spoke about the suspended gardaí.

“No specific allegations have been made to them in relation to what wrongdoing they are suspended for,” he said. 

No charges have been brought. No disciplinary actions have been taken.

“In the views of some, this response is not proportionate to the allegations that are made, and could have been dealt with by disciplinary procedures. It has dragged on for three years. This has had a traumatic effect on the lives of those gardaí but, over and above that, it has had a chilling effect on gardaí all over the country.”

Senator Timmy Dooley said the suspensions have had a 'chilling effect on gardaí all over the country'. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Senator Timmy Dooley said the suspensions have had a 'chilling effect on gardaí all over the country'. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

The senator’s comments succinctly summed up the case for the four gardaí in Court 9 and was probably accurate as to the ripples being felt among rank and file, certainly in the Mid West, if not further afield.

They were suspended in November 2020 as part of an investigation into “squaring” fixed-charge notices, for which penalty points usually accrue.

None of them have been charged with anything, or even arrested. A fifth garda who is also suspended has stepped back from the legal action.

The legality of their suspension will be decided by Ms Justice Siobhán Phelan, based on law, precedent, and principles.

But the detail that emerged in the court of the investigation in Limerick is curious.

The investigation is being conducted by officers of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, based in Dublin. Around 2,000 statements have been taken in the course of this investigation into ‘squaring’ tickets in the Limerick area.

A total of 198 files in which a ‘square’ is suspected have been opened, 130 gardaí have been interviewed in relation to these, and 38 files submitted to the DPP for a decision. Three serving gardaí are facing criminal charges.

The investigation, the court was told, is ongoing, four years after it was started. One strand of inquiry from the gardaí’s lawyer was why they have been suspended and not the 122 others who were interviewed.

Also, the gardaí say, they have been given no proper reason as to why they are suspended.

The court also heard that a file was submitted in relation to Garda Baynham to the DPP in July 2020, before he was suspended. A further file was submitted in July 2022. There has been no outcome to any of this.

The length of time the files have been with the DPP is highly curious. The only matter at issue is whether or not any garda failed to proceed with issuing a ticket after detecting an offence.

In Garda Baynham’s case, most of the tickets investigated concerned speeding and holding a mobile phone but one
involved “bad parking”.

Ms Justice Phelan said it was “difficult to comprehend” the lack of information provided to the court by the commissioner for Garda Baynham’s suspension.

Counsel for the commissioner suggested that the garda was aware of why he was being suspended. The judge said she would hope to give her ruling before Christmas.

The squaring of tickets was a major issue in 2014, following allegations made by former sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The investigation was led by an assistant commissioner, John
O’Mahony, and he had a crack team under him.

This was not confined to Limerick or anywhere else. McCabe and Garda John Wilson made complaints about 2,198 terminated tickets. Of these, 661 were terminated by three senior gardaí, two inspectors, and a superintendent.

The three were deemed to have breached regulations, but it was made plain that “no corruption” took place.

Slap on the wrist

A release from An Garda Síochána said all three would face disciplinary action, but thereafter it appears that this largely consisted of a slap on the wrist. None were suspended.

The whole high-powered investigation took six months to complete, but in reality practically all the work was done in four months.

Such a timetable for so many tickets appears phenomenal compared to what’s going on in Limerick today.

Following that probe and various fall-out, the whole system was
transformed. Yet, it would appear the NBCI believes that it is something of a scourge in Limerick and so endemic that it required the suspension of the four gardaí who were in court last week. And the investigation is still ongoing.

Only those who are at the heart of the investigation, and their superiors up to the commissioner, have full knowledge of the facts. At a time when Garda morale generally is very low and, as outlined by Mr Dooley, being seriously impacted by this case, the whole investigation gives rise, at the very least, to questions around proportionality.

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