Morris Tribunal for Dummies

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Everything you need to know about the Morris Tribunal by Gerard Cunningham.Photo of the Morris Tribunal

What is the Morris Tribunal?

The Morris Tribunal – or to give it its formal title, the Tribunal of Inquiry into complaints concerning some gardaí in the Donegal Division – was established by the Oireachtas on 28 March 2002.

Who is Mr Justice Morris?

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Frederick Morris, a former High Court president, was chosen as the sole member of the tribunal. Born in Kilkenny, he was called to the bar in 1952 and became a senior counsel in 1973. He was made a high court judge in 1990 and appointed to the Special Criminal Court the following year.

What are its terms of reference?

Morris’s terms of reference require him to look at allegations concerning Garda corruption and malpractice in Donegal, centering mostly on allegations by the McBrearty family and others concerning garda conduct during and after the investigation which followed the hit and run death of Raphoe cattle dealer Richie Barron in the early hours of Monday 14 October 1996.

How has it gone about its work?

The tribunal has broken its work into a series of modules. After two years and 224 days of evidence, the tribunal had completed three of eleven modules.

Of three modules already completed, two ran concurrently dealing with intertwined aspects of the McBrearty affair, one covering the overall investigation itself, the other the investigation into a series of hoax extortion telephone calls to Michael and Charlotte Peoples accusing him of Mr Barron’s death. A separate case involving the Gallagher family, victims of a pointless and fruitless search for IRA arms on their North Donegal farm, was also examined.

What did the first module look into?

The first module of the Tribunal looked at allegations that a series of bomb discoveries by gardaí in the early 1990s were hoaxes. This tribunal published its conclusions in its first interim report, published last summer.

What did it find?

The tribunal found that two Donegal-based guards, Superintendent Kevin Lennon and Detective Garda Noel McMahon planned a series of hoax finds in order to advance their careers. To achieve this, they pretended Letterkenny woman, Adrienne McGlinchey, was an IRA informer. Morris found that she was neither an IRA member nor an informer.

What was the outcome?

Following publication of the first interim report, corrupt detective Noel McMahon resigned. Two other senior gardaí, Chief Superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick and Superintendent John P O’Connor, also resigned after meeting the Garda commissioner to discuss the report, which found they had been negligent. The Cabinet fired Superintendent Lennon last October. Many of the nineteen former and serving gardaí criticised for corruption, negligence, and lying, four had already retired by the time the report was published. Others are still serving as members of An Garda Síochana.
Did that first report make any observations on the Gardaí as a whole?

Morris was highly critical of the force, finding it in a state of disarray, with low morale, poor discipline, lack of oversight, and a culture of silence summed up by one witness who told him “We don’t hang our own”.

Did it make any observations about the Garda leadership?

Senior management both in Donegal and Dublin failed to ask the most basic of questions, which would have uncovered the hoaxes being perpetrated under their noses.

What Gardaí were named as corrupt, or grossly negligent or grossly incompetent in the first module?

Morris found Kevin Lennon and Noel McMahon were corrupt in planting bogus explosives.

Lennon’s bosses, former Chief Supt Sean Ginty and Supt John P O’Connor were grossly negligent, as was Chief Supt Denis Fitzpatrick. Other senior officers found negligent to various degrees were Chief Supt John McLoughlin, Supt Tom Long, and Supt Michael Duffy.

Lower down the ranks, Det Sgt Hugh Smith, Det Sgt Sylvie Henry, Det Sgt Jim Leheny, Det Sgt Danny Kelly, Sgt Des Walsh, Sgt Mick Murray, Det Garda Martin Anderson, Det Garda Padraig Cafferkey, Garda Martin Leonard, Garda Tom Rattigan and Garda PJ Thornton were criticised.

Crime & Security Branch, the intelligence gathering section at Garda HQ, was also negligent.

What happened the Gardaí against whom findings of corruption, gross negligence, and incompetence were made?

Two of the senior officers resigned following publication of the report.

Danny Kelly had already resigned shortly after he gave his evidence to the tribunal. Several had already retired before the tribunal was established. The rest are still serving members of the force.

Did the Tribunal get full cooperation from the Gardaí in the conduct of its investigations in the first module?

Morris was highly critical of witnesses, and coined the term “Garda Speak” to describe “the practice which the judiciary have witnessed in the Courts for many years whereby gardaí in the witness box will parry and fence with counsel in a well-recognised choreography to avoid answering counsel’s question.”

When was the first report published?

July 2004

Did this report cause a big stir in the Dail?

Neither the Dáil nor Senate debated its findings.

What has happened since it published its report?

Very little. However Sean Aylward, the current Secretary General of the Dept of Justice, said it was part of the “mood music” behind the framing of the current Garda Bill.

How many of the recommendations have been implemented?

The commissioner set up nine working parties to consider the report, and is now contemplating what to do next. To date, there have been few concrete changes.

What did the second report deal with?

The second module dealt with the death of Raphoe cattle dealer Richie Barron in 1996, and the subsequent garda investigation. During the investigation into Richie Barron’s death, Frank McBrearty junior, his cousin Mark McConnell, and Michael Peoples were arrested on 4 December 1996 on suspicion of murder. Mark McConell’s wife Roisin, and her first cousin Charlotte Peoples, as well as two of Roisin’s sisters, and employees of the McBrearty’s, were also arrested as accessories after the fact. Frank McBrearty senior was also arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the state Act on conspiracy charges relating to allegations that he attempted to bribe witnesses.

A third module concerned hoax telephone calls to Michael and Charlotte Peoples. The issues involved were so intertwined with the Barron investigation that the evidence was heard concurrently and is also covered in the second report.

What did the Tribunal discover in these second and third modules?

It established Richie Barron was not murdered. He died as a result of a hit and run. All of the people arrested were completely innocent of any involvement in Mr Barron’s death. The judge was extremely critical of the Garda investigation, which he branded “prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent in the highest degree.” Named gardaí conspired to frame Mr McBrearty and Mr McConnell, and covered up the origin of a hoax extortion call to Michael Peoples from the home of John O’Dowd, then a garda stationed on Raphoe. The caller accused Peoples of murder and demanded money. In all, fifteen former and serving members of the force were heavily criticised, as was the Crime & Security intelligence section, which was negligent in its handling of informers.

What Gardai were named as corrupt, or grossly negligent or grossly incompetent?

In this second module John O’Dowd and Garda Phil Collins conspired to falsify garda records to conceal O’Dowd’s knowledge of the hoax extortion call. Supt Kevin Lennon and Chief Supt Denis Fitzpatrick also covered up the phone calls.

Chief Superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Joe Shelly, Superintendent John McGinley and retired Superintendent John Fitzgerald were negligent to various degrees in running the investigation. Shelly, McGinley and Fitzpatrick were also criticised for destroying their notes and diaries from the time.

John O’Dowd and Padraig Mulligan were criticised for failing to account for their movements the night Barron died. They were drinking in a pub in Lifford. Mulligan was supposed to be on duty in Raphoe at the time.

Garda PJ McDermott, Garda John Birney and Garda James McDwyer chose to ignore the 999 call to attend the scene of the hit and run because they were about to go on their meal break. Garda Patrick Boyce in Letterkenny failed to log all the calls from civilians reporting the incident. When Mulligan, Birney and McDwyer eventually arrived at the scene, their actions were “hopelessly negligent”.

Sgt Marty Moylan allowed himself to be “swept along” in taking a false statement from a supposed witness, Noel McBride in “oppressive circumstances” by O’Dowd and Collins. He did not give a truthful account of the interview to the tribunal. Garda Martin Leonard failed in his duty to protect Noel McBride, a prisoner in his custody.

Det Sgt John White lied to the tribunal about the circumstances in which a later false statement was taken from Noel McBride in July 1997. He was negligent in failing to share suspicions about William Doherty with the incident room investigating the Barron case.

Sgt John O’Toole bypassed proper procedures for obtaining telephone records during the investigation, by contacting his brother-in-law Det Insp Patrick Nyhan in Crime & Security directly. The documents O’Toole obtained through Nyhan were later destroyed “to erase the fact that the information had been obtained outside normal channels”.

Garda John O’Dowd and Supt Kevin Lennon concocted false intelligence reports, which they attributed to O’Dowd’s informer, William Doherty, in order to further their careers. Fitzpatrick was grossly negligent in how he treated the intelligence.

Crime & Security branch was again found to be negligent in not following up on the intelligence.

What has happened to them?

Supt Joe Shelly and Det Supt John McGinley offered their resignations at a meeting on Tuesday (6 June) with Commissioner Noel Conroy. Supt John Fitzgerald had already retired last December, having completed 40 years in the force.

Fitzpatrick had already resigned last Summer after he was criticised in the first Morris report.

Since the publication of the second report last week, there have been calls for further resignations, including those of Commissioner Noel Conroy and Justice Minister Michael McDowell.

Lennon was fired last Autumn. O’Dowd and Mulligan were fired last year following internal garda disciplinary proceedings. Collins resigned last October. Birney had already retired before the Tribunal heard his evidence.

White is currently suspended. Moylan intends to retire later this month once he completes his 30 years service.

When was the second report published?

1 June 2005

Were there any general observations made about An Garda Síochána in this second report?

Yes. The judge again criticised the culture of silence in the force, and the breakdown in morale and discipline.

Regarding the extortion calls, what was that about?

Michael and Charlotte Peoples received a series of extortion telephone calls on 9 November 1996 accusing them of murdering Richie Barron and demanding money. Charlotte is a first cousin of Roisin McConnell, the wife of Mark McConnell.

What was the outcome of that?

William Doherty, a garda informer, made the calls from his own home and that of his handler, Garda John O’Dowd, with O’Dowd’s approval. His colleague Garda Phil Collins falsified garda records to create an alibi for O’Dowd for he time the call was made from his home. Supt Kevin Lennon and Chief Supt Denis Fitzpatrick acted with O’Dowd to cover up his involvement in the calls.

How did the government and the Minister for Justice respond to this report?

There’s been a lot of talk about a few bad apples. The government has also pointed to the new ombudsman commission, which will replace the garda complaints board as a guarantee that it won’t happen again. The Taoiseach and the Minister have expressed their confidence in the garda commissioner.

Did any of the Gardaí against whom finds were made get their costs or have their costs paid for by the State?

Yes. Gardaí represented by the legal team for the Garda Commissioner had their legal costs paid.

How was it that the Garda Commissioner represented Gardaí at the Tribunal who clearly had been grossly incompetent and negligent?

In closing submissions, lawyers for the Commissioner argued that the Barron case was in fact a well-run investigation, and that although mistakes had happened they were eventually corrected. Obviously Mr Justice Morris disagreed.

Who is Kevin Carty?

The allegations by the McBrearty family were originally investigated by a team headed by Assistant commissioner Kevin Carty, now working with the UN in Bosnia. Carty was sent to Donegal in 1999 to investigate the claims that a hoax extortion telephone call was made from the phone of Garda John O’Dowd. Carty’s investigation was unable to get to the core of the telephone calls, but it did uncover allegations of wrongdoing against guards in the Division, both from the McBrearty and in other cases mentioned previously, including the allegations concerning fake explosives finds, initially from Sheenagh McMahon, the disillusioned wife of Detective Noel McMahon, and later substantiated by Adrienne McGlinchey. Following Carty’s report, which had never been published, several officers were transferred out of the division.

What is this Crime and Security?

Crime & Security is the garda intelligence unit, based in the Phoenix Park HQ. It is responsible for collating and analysing information on the IRA and other groups.

Because the tribunal’s terms of reference required it to look at the activities of alleged IRA informers in the north-western county, the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts were amended to allow testimony in closed session if it threatened the security of the State, or could prejudice ongoing criminal prosecutions.

As a result, all evidence relating to C77 forms – used by gardaí to report subversive intelligence to Crime & Security – has been heard in private. To date however, the tribunal chairman has found that none of the information on any C77 studied by the tribunal contained anything substantial, and was either bogus or consisted merely of snippets of gossip.

What did the reports say about it?

Crime & Security has been criticised in both Morris reports for its negligence in failing to ask basic questions about dodgy intelligence reports.

To what extent have the reports been embarrassing from the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy?

He was in charge of Crime and Security for much of the period covered by the first Explosives Module. The closing submission by his legal team that the Barron investigation was a well-run exercise has also raised eyebrows.

What about the Gallagher family?

A major search for IRA arms took place on a farm belonging to the Gallagher family in St Johnstown in March 1997. Despite intensive efforts involving members of the ERU and an Army helicopter, nothing was found. Morris concluded that the search was based on bogus information concocted by Kevin Lennon and John O’Dowd to advance their careers. William Doherty was told to plant subversive materials on lands belonging to the Gallaghers, an innocent family, but failed to do so despite telling Lennon he had, thus leading to several days of fruitless searching.

What are the other modules of the Tribunal to look at?

The tribunal will resume sittings for its 325th day on Monday 13 June, when it will hear applications for costs from the parties represented in the most recent modules. Following criticism of several guards who were found to have lied to the tribunal, the Garda Representative Association is no doubt bracing itself for another hefty legal bill. Mounting legal bills led the Association to withdraw its barristers last March, and only their solicitors now attend the tribunal. The representation their members can expect may be pared back even further in future modules. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors may fare somewhat better, although one of their clients, Sgt Martin Moylan, was severely criticised in the second interim report. The Garda Commissioner did not make an application for costs after the first report, and looks unlikely to do so this time either.

The Dept of Justice will pick up the bill for all the officers represented by his legal team.

The next module will examine the so-called ‘Silver Bullet’ affair, which led to the arrest of Mark McConnell and Michael Peoples following allegations that they threatened Mr Bernard Conlon. Conlon has since withdrawn all his allegations, and later received a six-month suspended sentence for his part in the affair.

However, in light of the finding that cattle dealer Richie Barron died as a result of a hit and run, and that Frank McBrearty junior and others are innocent of any involvement in his death, the most interesting of the impending modules concerns what happened while Frank McBrearty was in garda detention on 4 December 1996. Four members of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation questioned McBrearty, and claim he signed a confession while questioned by two of the Dublin detectives, Detective Sergeant John Melody and Detective Garda John Fitzpatrick.

McBrearty has always denied he signed the alleged statement of admission while in garda custody, and says it was either manufactured or obtained by a trick. In light of the findings by pathologists that Mr Barron’s injuries could not have been caused by an assault, questions arise about why Mr McBrearty would make a statement claiming he “hit him a slap on the head” with “a bit of timber”. His lawyers have pointed out that the page containing the admission is not signed or initialled by Mr McBrearty.

Morris is also required to look at further allegations from the McBrearty family, including that they were subject to a campaign of harassment by Gardaí which led to over 100 summonses being served for licensing offences at their pub, and the failure of the Garda Complaints Board to deal adequately with the protests from the McBrearty family.

Another module will look at the arrest of Mr Frank McBrearty junior resulting from an alleged assault on a Mr Edward Moss. Mr McBrearty was acquitted of charges relating to Mr Moss in the Letterkenny Circuit Court in 1999.

Unrelated to the McBrearty family, the Tribunal is also required to examine allegations concerning garda conduct during protests over the erection of MMDS equipment on a telecommunications mast near Ardara, and allegations that a makeshift explosive device found near the mast was assembled in a garda station. Further allegations concern the alleged planting of a firearm and ammunition near a Traveller encampment in Burnfoot in the north of the county. Amazingly, key evidence relating to this find, including 11 cartridges of ammunition and 39 original statements, has since disappeared from garda custody.

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