From Socialist Voice, February 2007

Growing need for radical reform of the Garda Síochána

It appears that with each passing week a new scandal emerges or new questions are raised about the role of the Garda Síochána in our society. The most recent is the case of twenty-year-old Terence Wheelock, who died in 2005 after two-and-a-half hours in Garda custody.
     This young man’s clothes were extensively stained in blood and vomit, according to an independent forensic science report commissioned by his family. After almost a year of legal wrangling with the Garda Commissioner’s office, the family were eventually granted access to his clothes in November last year. Photographs of the body taken in the Mater Hospital by the hospital photographer are believed to show extensive bruising on his arms, legs and torso and cuts on his knuckles as well as a single ligature mark around his neck.
     The Garda forensic scientist giving evidence at the now-postponed inquest stated that there were bloodstains on Terence Wheelock’s underwear. The Gardaí claim that the young man was found unconscious in a cell after having attempted to hang himself with a cord from his tracksuit bottoms, and that the blood and vomit stains found on his clothing were the result of the attempted hanging. Yet the independent forensic scientists are making the claim that the blood had soaked through to the outside of the tracksuit bottoms, that the staining on his underwear and tracksuit was from the inside out.
     His T-shirt was covered in vomit and bloodstains. The experts stated that vomit can occur in an attempted hanging, but they found only one ligature mark on the neck, which would rule out a number of attempts to commit suicide.
     This is just one of a growing list of complaints and serious questions being raised about how the Garda Síochána operates, and who investigates complaints against the Gardaí. In the case of Terence Wheelock there is a clear need for a full independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death.
     This case raises once again the urgent necessity for major reforms in the Garda Síochána and the implementation of Patten-type reforms. People are dying as a result of Garda actions. There is a need for a uniform approach to policing north and south, and the maximum of democratic accountability, as increasingly there is in the North.
     If Patten is good enough for Northern Ireland then it is equally good and, most importantly, urgently required here in the Republic.

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