Corrib: A Policing Failure?

Campaigners against the Shell Corrib gas project in North West Mayo have for over a decade made serious allegations in relation to the failure of the Irish State to commit to democratic principles of accountable and transparent policing.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) had a large case file of complaints to deal with when it took over from the Garda Complaints Board in May 2007. The policing of the Corrib gas conflict, one of the longest running police operations in the State, which has resulted in numerous hospitalisations, hundreds of arrests and the imprisonment of nine campaigners, continues in the Erris region largely beyond the scrutiny of the media.

Several issues of serious concern have yet to be addressed. These include the collusion of state police and private security firm Integrated Risk Management Solutions (IRMS), complaints of serious intimidation of local people and the operation of undercover police officers from the UK. To date in relation to the over 110 complaints received, 78 of which GSOC deemed admissible, no Garda has been prosecuted.

In 2007, the-then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, refused a request by GSOC to conduct a “practice, policy and procedure” investigation into the police operation on the basis that the commission did not have enough experience investigating complaints.

In 2009 the-then Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, ignored GSOC’s recommendation that a senior Garda involved in policing Corrib face disciplinary action. The following year two visiting officers at GSOC, tasked with addressing the body of complaints in relation to Corrib, gave their apologies to local campaigners and resigned, returning to New Zealand.

Over the years human rights bodies have consistently drawn attention to the violence and intimidation campaigners have suffered at the hands of the Gardaí yet at no stage has the Garda Commissioner or Garda senior management requested advice from the Strategic Human Rights Advisory Committee in relation to the policing of the Corrib gas project.

Further concerns have been raised by the employment of firms associated with the Corrib development of former high ranking Gardaí. In 2010, former Westport superintendent, Pat Doyle, joined IRMS and took a management role with the security firm at the Corrib site. Doyle retired from the Gardaí in May 2009. In 2006, Shell said that it had hired Mayo’s former chief superintendent, John Carey, as a part-time adviser.

These appointments were questioned by then Labour TD and now President Michael D Higgins in 2010.

He said: “There are genuine causes for concern here that highlight the need for a clear code to handle transition. For a person who had a function in the public realm and the administration of the State, and using information for such purposes, there should be very defined rules on the period of time which elapse before taking up employment linked to that area and the distance between the area in which they functioned and in which they might now be making a new life.”