The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Michael McDowell, T.D., has today welcomed the publication of the Barr Tribunal Report which he has just received.
Pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921-2002, the Barr Tribunal was established in July 2002 to inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co. Longford, on 20 April, 2000, and to report to the Clerk of Dáil Eireann and to make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit in relation to these matters. Mr Justice Robert Barr was appointed as Sole Member of the Tribunal.
The Minister acknowledged the work of Mr Justice Barr and his Tribunal Team in investigating the death of John Carthy and their comprehensive report into all the related events. That work lasted a considerable time and, obviously, time is now needed to examine the Report and consider its findings and recommendations.
Following his initial examination of the Report, the Minister noted that while failures of an operational nature in the Garda response to this incident were identified, it was also the case that the Report acknowledged that members of An Garda Síochána were faced with a grave and unique situation in Abbeylara, and that they did their best to resolve it without loss of life or injury.
The Minister said: "Obviously this report will require detailed study and it is important that we learn whatever lessons we can from the tragic death of John Carthy. But it is important too that we recognise, as the Report does, the difficulties faced by members of the Garda Síochána in having to make split-second decisions which can have such serious consequences. We must do nothing which interferes with the right and duty of members of the Garda Síochána to take whatever steps are necessary to protect their own lives, the lives of their colleagues and the lives of members of the community.
As with any tragic loss, the relatives and friends of John Carthy are due our sympathy. But, equally, members of the Garda Síochána who played a role in the events at Abbeylara are entitled to our understanding. Individual members of the Garda Síochána can pay a heavy price in having to live with the consequences of difficult decisions which we call on them to make on our behalf."
The Minister also stated that, thankfully, circumstances of the kind which arose in this case are exceptionally rare. As Mr Justice Barr acknowledged, it is not possible to do more than speculate on whether there could have been a successful outcome if matters had been handled differently. Nevertheless, there have been developments in terms of legislation, training and better equipment in recent years which continue to strengthen the Garda Siochana in dealing with the myriad of complex situations they face in the course of protecting the community day in day out.
The Minister said that, in accordance with the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, he will now be forwarding a copy of the Report to the recently-appointed Chief Inspector of the new Garda Inspectorate, Kathleen O'Toole. He will be asking her in the light of the Report's findings to immediately review Garda procedures and practices for dealing with incidents of the nature that arose in Abbeylara. The Minister also stated that, under the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, all fatal shooting incidents involving the Gardaí will automatically be referred to the new Garda Ombudsman Commission.
Moreover, the Garda Commissioner has assured the Minister that the Garda Síochána will examine Mr Justice Barr's Report carefully and comprehensively with a view to addressing the issues which arise.
There will be a full debate on the report when the Dáil resumes in the autumn.
20 July 2006.
Notes for Editors
The Criminal Justice Act 2006, signed into law by the President on Sunday last (16th July) substantially reforms the law in relation to legally and illegally held firearms. It includes the following provisions:
- expanded conditions that all persons wishing to legally hold a firearm will be required to satisfy, including the applicant's written consent for the Gardaí to make enquiries from a doctor or psychiatrist , in relation to the applicant's medical history;
- increased fines and penalties generally for offences under the Firearms Acts;
- mandatory minimum sentences, of between five and ten years, for certain firearms offences, including possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, possession of firearm with criminal intent, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, possession of a firearm while hijacking a vehicle, use or production of a firearm to resist arrest, and altering a firearm (such as "sawing-off" a shotgun);
- a requirement that secure accommodation has been provided for the firearm;
- provisions to allow the Minister to deem certain firearms as "restricted" by reference to specific criteria, including the calibre, action type and muzzle energy of the firearm. In future any person wishing to obtain a certificate for such a firearm will have to apply directly to the Garda Commissioner;
- introduces a statutory right of appeal to the District Court of decisions in relation to certificates;
- introduces a new type of certificate, which will allow young persons to be trained in the use of firearms for sporting purposes;
- introduces a new power for the Commissioner to make guidelines for the uniform administration of the Act;
- provides for the authorisation of rifle and pistol clubs and shooting ranges;
- introduces a statutory basis for an amnesty during which firearms and offensive weapons may be surrendered to the Garda Síochána before new penalties and minimum mandatory sentences are introduced. This will enable those in possession of firearms and offensive weapons, who are not in compliance with the legal requirements, to regularise their position, and thus enable the Garda Síochána to concentrate on more serious offenders;
Garda Use of Less Lethal Weapons
Following the tragedy in Abbeylara, the Garda Commissioner appointed a Working Group to consider the use of 'less lethal' weapons which could be made available. This examination showed that while the technology has not provided a panacea to the goal of achieving a non-lethal device, however, alternatives with a recognised risk are becoming more acceptable than the application of lethal force through conventional firearms.
Despite the use of the term "non lethal", many of these weapons are in fact potentially lethal if used incorrectly or depending on the physical and medical condition of the person in question. Notwithstanding the claims made on behalf of such devices, it is no easy task, in real life situations, to incapacitate a person with sufficient speed, certainty and effect so as to guarantee that person does not pose a threat, while at the same time not causing that person any serious or permanent injury.
The report of this Group was considered by Government in November 2002 and authorisation was granted for the introduction of three types of 'less lethal' weapons for use by the Garda ERU where appropriate:
Bean bag shot: Effectively a bag filled with shot fired from a shotgun so that it does not penetrate the body but delivers a blow with the intention of temporarily incapacitating the person;
Pepper spray device: A special aerosol projector which is designed to deliver a directional pepper spray to a distance of 25-30 feet; and
Ferret Pepper spray shot: A shotgun cartridge device that is intended to penetrate a door/window and deliver pepper spray inside.
These devices have subsequently been purchased and deployed with the E.R.U.
Should the Garda authorities require other "Less Lethal" devices a proposal will be made, by the Commissioner, to the Minister who will then examine any proposal received.