News

Concerns raised over Garda ombudsman Troubles power

Solicitor Kevin Winters
Solicitor Kevin Winters Solicitor Kevin Winters

CONCERNS have been raised after it emerged that the Garda Ombudsman has no power to investigate Troubles related complaints.

Details emerged after solicitors acting for an IRA man killed by loyalists almost 30 years ago contacted then Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Martin Doherty (35) was shot dead when a UVF gang tried to plant a bomb at a Sinn Féin fundraising function at the Widow


Scallan’s Bar in Dublin in May 1994.

Another man, Patrick Burke, was seriously injured.

An 18lb bomb was left outside the venue but failed to go off.

Gardaí later admitted Special Branch officers were outside the pub about an hour before the


attack.

It was also reported that gardaí had been alerted by the RUC about the possibility of an attack but it was thought there was no specific information.

GSOC has no power to examine Troubles related complaints
GSOC has no power to examine Troubles related complaints GSOC has no power to examine Troubles related complaints

Belfast based solicitor Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, said he has been trying “to get gardaí to engage on serious investigative failings on their part”.

“Many years ago we asked GSOC to investigate those failings only to be told in March this year that GSOC don’t have the retrospective power to investigate gardaí on Troubles-related complaints,” he said.

“This is a set back to not only the families connected to the Widow Scallans atrocity but its also a blow to many other Republic of Ireland next-of-kin who aren’t happy on how loyalist-linked Troubles incidents were investigated.”

GSOC’s equivalent in the north, the Police Ombudsman, has the power to investigate the past and in recent years has produced several hard-hitting reports.

In recent months the Irish government has been to the fore in highlighting concerns about the British government’s proposed Legacy Bill, which is making its way through Westminster.

Just this week Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin asked Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to pause the planned legislation.

“It’s a double whammy and all the more galling because the Irish government has recently been very strong in its criticism of the bill.

“Against this backdrop of otherwise laudable Irish condemnation, it’s unsettling to learn that Ireland itself has no oversight at all on any gardaí investigative failings in Troubles cases.”

Mr Winters said pending legislation reform south of the border fails to address the situation.

“We have written to GSOC to find out why the necessary retrospective powers to allow them to investigate gardaí on Troubles cases hasn’t been included in draft legislation,” he said.

He has also written to the various agencies in Dublin, including the Department for Foreign Affairs, the minister for justice, and Attorney General.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Justice said “legally there is nothing... to prohibit GSOC engaging with legacy cases where appropriate to do so”.

“Dealing with the legacy of the troubles on this island is a difficult and complex task,” she said.

“The government remains committed to deal with legacy issues in a way that can meet the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors and support reconciliation for those communities most affected by the Troubles.

“Historic cases related to the troubles remain open, such as the Belturbet bombing which is under active investigation by An Garda Síochána. 

“A number of other cases have been subject to oversight via inquiries.”

She said the British government’s Legacy Bill continues to be “strongly opposed” by Irish authorities.

The Attorney General did not provide a response.