Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gardaí and Government have questions to answer following Omeath shooting

Last week RTE broadcast a special investigative programme about events in Omeath on 11 October 2015 which left a Garda Officer, Tony Golden dead, Siobhán Phillips, a young mother of two fighting for her life in hospital and the gunman Crevan Mackin also dead after taking his own life. Like everyone else I was shocked when the news broke. Omeath is a quiet, tranquil village on Carlingford Lough. It is a beautiful part of the Cooley Mountains.

In the aftermath of the shootings the news reports appeared to suggest it was an open and shut case. No one else was involved in the incident and the perpetrator, Crevan Mackin, was dead. However, four days after the shooting I received anonymously to my office in the Dáil a copy of the Statement of Charges relating to the arrest in January of that year of Mackin. The detail contained within the document raised serious and fundamental questions about the role of elements of An Garda Síochána in the circumstances surrounding Mackin’s arrest in January 2015, their relationship with him subsequently, and the multiple shooting in Omeath.

I immediately contacted the office of the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, and then wrote to both her and An Taoiseach providing them with a copy of the Book of Statements and setting out my concerns.

The document revealed that Mackin was arrested on 16th January 2015 at his home in Omeath under Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act. The warrant accused him of being a member of the IRA on the 16th January 2015 and in possession of explosives in suspicious circumstances. The Gardaí believed that he had six handguns, as well as explosives, ammunition and timing devices.

During subsequent interrogation in Dundalk Garda station Mackin denied the membership charge but admitted possession of weapons and explosives. According to his family and solicitor he was taken at one point from the station to a house at Edentubber where two hand guns were recovered. Later Mackin was charged with membership but not with the possession of the explosives or weapons.

His family say that Mackin told them later that he did a deal with his Garda interrogators that in return for working for them he would not be charged with the firearms and explosives offences. He told his family that the Gardaí wanted him to go on to the dissident wing in Portlaoise as their informer. However when the dissident prisoners refused to accept him Mackin’s bail conditions were significantly dropped from twenty thousand euro to five to allow for his release.

Both the evidence of the Statement of Charges and the accounts given by his family show that with the knowledge of some in An Garda Síochána, Mackin continued to have access to at least four other handguns.

On Saturday 10 October Crevan Mackin’s partner Siobhán Phillips contacted her father Sean and step mother Norma. She told them that Mackin had savagely beaten her overnight from the Friday evening into the Saturday morning and that he had attacked her with a knife. Sean and Norma brought Siobhán to Dundalk Garda station but the Duty Officer refused to take a statement from her. This was despite the family telling him that Mackin was currently out on bail and had threatened to kill them and all of their immediate family.

The family drove to Daisy Hill hospital in Newry where because of her injuries, the staff contacted the PSNI. They took notes and photos of Siobhán’s injuries. When they left Daisy Hill hospital at 11.30 pm on the Saturday night the family drove toward Carlingford intending to make a complaint at the Garda station there. On route they flagged down a Garda car whose occupants referred them to Garda Tony Golden. It was arranged that he would meet Siobhán at 3pm on the Sunday. The next day Siobhán, and her father Sean, met Garda Golden who took a statement and then offered to bring Siobhán to her home to collect some things. According to Sean shortly after Garda Golden and Siobhán entered the house shots were fired. Garda Golden was killed. Siobhán was shot four times and grievously wounded in the head, and Crevan Mackin then shot himself.

In the 18 months since the Omeath shooting I have written to the Minister for Justice eight times and to the Taoiseach four times. I also handed over all of the information to the Garda Officer in charge of the investigation. And when it appeared that the government was not taking this matter seriously I made a formal complaint to the Garda Ombudsman.

The ramifications of this case are far reaching for An Garda Siochána and for the government, especially in light of the number of Commissions of Investigations and scandals currently surrounding the Gardaí.

Crevan Mackin was an individual with known serious mental health issues. Despite having admitted possession of weapons and explosives he was not charged with these but with– membership – an accusation he consistently denied. All of the available information indicates that some in the Gardaí – in particular the Special detective Unit - were aware that Mackin was still in possession of other handguns, including two Glock handguns. It was a Glock that Mackin used in the Omeath shooting.

Informers and agents are regularly used by police services to provide information on individuals and organisations. However, it is widely accepted that such informers should not act as agent provocateurs or engage in criminal actions or encourage others to do so. In the North the use by the RUC and British security agencies of informers and agents has long been a major source of controversy. The Crevan Mackin case has turned the spotlight on the Gardaí and how it recruits and runs informers.

Why was Mackin not charged with the more serious offences which he had confessed to? Why was he allowed to retain possession of a significant number of handguns? Were local Gardaí informed that Mackin still had access to weapons? Why were Siobhán Phillips and Garda Golden placed in such a perilous situation? Had Garda Golden no means of checking Mackin’s record before approaching the house? What assurances and protections were given to Mackin by the Special Detective Unit?

There is also the very serious matter of the Garda’s treatment of Siobhán Phillips, a victim of significant violence by her partner. When the family sought to make a complaint at Dundalk station they were refused. Why? What protocols are in place with An Garda Síochána for dealing with victims of domestic violence? Clearly the treatment of Siobhán Phillips is evidence that any protocols that might exist are inadequate. It is worth noting in this regard that only two weeks ago the Garda Commissioner was forced to admit that the Garda’s statistics on murder and domestic violence may be wrong and that it is now re-examining all of its statistics.

The responses of both the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice to my correspondence have been unsatisfactory. I have never received any indication that the government was taking this matter seriously.

Those responsible must be held accountable and, if necessary, they must face a criminal investigation and possibly charges. Just days before the RTE programme was broadcast Siobhán Phillips, Crevan Mackin’s sister, and I received letters from GSOC. I was told that the Garda Ombudsman now intends to conduct an investigation in the public interest into the information I gave it.

Separately the family of Siobhán Phillips have called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to establish a public inquiry into the incident. This week they will begin proceedings in the High Court in Dublin.

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