“A police force is nothing without the trust of the community”

Last week, the Seanad had an opportunity to debate the findings of the recent final part of the Morris Tribunal findings. There was particular interest in the judgement of Mr. Justice Morris in respect of Members of the Oireachtas. Below is my own contribution to the debate.

I will begin by echoing the remarks of other Members in respect of Mr. Justice Morris’s work during the preparation of his eight reports. I refer to the extraordinary amount of work that was input, the careful consideration and sifting of evidence and allegations, as well as the highly detailed and, as Members have commented, in many ways shocking contents of the reports that have been published as a result of the inquiries the judge carried out. I also add my congratulations to those who worked with Mr. Justice Morris in his tribunal, including the lawyers, high-paid or otherwise, who performed an important public duty by sifting through a considerable number of allegations, sometimes of great complexity, as well as hearing evidence and reaching conclusions based on the evidence put before the tribunal and publishing the reports it was charged with providing to the Oireachtas when it was first established.

The most recent report is the one we are at present considering in greatest detail but, as other Senators have noted, the most serious of conclusions were reached by the Morris tribunal and each of the eight reports makes for disturbing reading. As others have quoted from the findings, I will not rehearse them other than to note that a police force in a democratic society is nothing without the trust of the community. The Garda has a remarkable tradition of coming from the community but if that connection is undermined, it will hit at the core of the confidence that the public must have in its police force for society to function and justice and policing to be administered efficiently and fairly. If authority is rooted in the society which it serves, it will be successful.

Unfortunately, the example of what occurred over a number of years in Donegal, which the Minister of State described as a dark period in our history, could be repeated and suspicions remain that similar practices continue. Ongoing scrutiny and engagement are needed in respect of these issues because we cannot be absolutely confident that the dreadful deeds set out in the Morris reports will never be repeated. Perhaps ominously, Mr. Justice Morris was of the opinion that the gardaí serving in Donegal cannot be viewed as unrepresentative or an aberration from the generality. He was reflecting on concerns that he was not inquiring into an isolated case and reminding us of the need for constant vigilance and proper mechanisms to ensure public confidence in the Garda Síochána.

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