Ombudsman legacy cases limited by Garda

The Police Ombudsman says it is having significant difficulties in getting information from the Garda on three separate Troubles legacy cases it is investigating.

The news has prompted renewed concerns that the Stormont House Agreement will require “unbalanced” levels of cooperation from the Republic of Ireland and the UK in terms of transparency on the past.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) told the News Letter that it began making requests to the Garda regarding all three cases more than a year ago.

“We have requested a considerable amount of information in relation to three cases, and have received a limited proportion of that material,” the spokesman said. “Many requests remain outstanding, and we are in ongoing discussions with An Garda Síochána about securing more of the information we have requested.”

The Police Ombudsman has powers to compel the PSNI to disclose information but no powers over the Garda.

The Garda declined to engage any discussion on the Ombudsman’s claims.

Ulster University historian Cillian McGrattan believes the Stormont House Agreement requires much more stringent transparency on the Troubles from the UK than from the Republic of Ireland.

“The ‘limited’ assistance offered by the Garda in ongoing cases in NI is regrettable,” he said. “However, it is predictable given that it is consistent with the principle of ‘cooperation’ that the Irish government offered in the Stormont House Agreement.”

He notes that the SHA holds the UK to “make full disclosure” to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit on the Troubles but that the Irish government has pledged a less stringent requirement of “full cooperation” by comparison.

Ken Funston, Advocacy Manager with the South East Fermanagh Foundation, told the News Letter that laws in the Republic of Ireland mean that even the Garda Ombudsman cannot compel the Garda to disclose information.

“The former commissioner of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Conor Brady, criticised the Garda previously for ‘hiding behind the screen of security’ in disputed issues which the authority wants to examine,” he said.

The Garda ‘waved the national security flag’ during sensitive investigations by GSOC, he added.

“Therefore the Garda will only release what they wish without pressure from anyone else. PONI will be considered hostile to them, and even if the request appears to be non-national security, they can introduce a caveat to prevent the release of potentially embarrassing documents.”

In August UUP MLA Doug Beattie warned that Northern Ireland may sign up to a “lopsided” process which could frustrate probes into “the complicit role [of] the Irish government” in border IRA murders.

The Garda said it “does not comment on any meetings or correspondence between agencies nor do we comment on third party comments”.