Gardaí suspensions should be quashed due to delay, court hears – The Irish Times
The ongoing suspensions of four gardaí, initiated three years ago, should be quashed due to the delay to resolution and because they have not been properly explained, the High Court has heard. The suspensions arise out of investigations into the alleged “squaring” of fixed charge penalty notices.
Garda Paul Baynham, Garda Alan Griffin, Garda Niall Deegan and Garda John Shanahan were all attached to the Roads Policing Unit at Henry Street in Limerick before being suspended without pay in November 2020. All deny any wrongdoing and say they have at no point been arrested or charged.
Ms Justice Siobhán Phelan heard submissions on Tuesday in the case brought by Gda Baynham, with the similar actions of the other three gardaí attached.
Mark Harty SC, with James Kane BL, said the suspensions must be reviewed every three months and his clients must be entitled to make submissions on the renewals. However, they could not make “effective” submissions without knowing the basis for the suspension, he said.
He questioned why his clients, out of 130 gardaí allegedly interviewed and investigated, had been subjected to suspensions lasting three years.
The investigation by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation concerns the alleged “squaring” of fixed charge notices, where these would allegedly not be written up, not prosecuted in court or would be cancelled on the system.
The gardaí claim their personal phones were seized pursuant to warrants in October 2019 as part of the probe into wrongdoing alleged against now-retired Limerick superintendent Eamon O’Neill.
Mr O’Neill denies all wrongdoing. He faces charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice, which have yet to be heard at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court. Four other gardaí, who are not those bringing these judicial review actions, are contesting similar counts relating to a three-year period leading to September 2019.
The four challenging their suspensions in the civil High Court say they were told the bureau was only looking for material connected to Mr O’Neill. They were later interviewed under caution and instructed to hand over their notebooks, they claim.
Making submissions in Gda Baynham’s action on Tuesday, Mr Harty said the suspension had not been explained by the commissioner other than that it was to preserve the integrity of the criminal investigation into “squaring” and in the interests of An Garda Síochána.
He submitted that there were many scenarios that could arguably be “in the interest” of the force but that did not mean a suspension under this heading was a “necessary and correct decision or a lawful decision”. The Oireachtas has legislated for suspensions to be in the interests of “discipline and discipline only”, he added.
Public confidence in An Garda Síochána was important, but this did not entitle the commissioner to suspend a member for the sake of “public image”, he said.
He submitted that the allegations against Gda Baynham were “evolving”, and there had been significant material non-disclosure by the commissioner.
A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) concerning some members in July 2020 and another in July 2022 following on from the investigation, but there had been no decision made in relation to these, the court heard.
Responding on behalf of the commissioner and State parties, Conor Power SC said the criminal investigation into squaring and the disciplinary proceedings were ongoing.
An Garda Síochána was awaiting decisions from the DPP, which is an independent office, on files sent regarding five Garda members and members of the public in relation to the investigation, he said.
Ms Justice Phelan asked if the commissioner could wait “indefinitely” for the DPP to decide upon a file. Mr Power said the office was statutorily obliged to make a decision and must be allowed to take its own course. Perhaps the delay could become so egregious that it would be considered a refusal decision, he added.
The judge said a suspension of three years seemed to be “an extraordinary length of time”.
Mr Power accepted it was a “very unfortunate situation”, but if the delay was not of the commissioner’s making then the commissioner should not have to alter his position.
Asked about the delay in the disciplinary process, he said the investigation was “complex and serious”.
Mr Power pointed to what he said seemed to be contradictions in Gda Baynham’s statements about the level of information he was given about the criminal investigation. While he said in his first affidavit to the court that he had no allegations put to him, this stands in contrast to his April 2022 personal statement in which he said he believed he was a suspect when interviewed under caution with a solicitor present in October 2019.
He said an impression had been given that Gda Baynham was “led to believe he was some innocent bystander”, but that “does not accord with the evidence”.
The hearing continues on Wednesday.