Four serving Gardai and a retired Garda Superintendent, who are accused of over 40 counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice, will be tried in Limerick, after a judge refused an application brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to have the trial heard in Dublin.
The five accused, who have all served within the Limerick Garda Division, including, retired Garda Superintendent Eamon O’Neill, Sergeant Anne-Marie Hassett, Sergeant Michelle Leahy, Garda Tom McGlinchey, and Garda Colm Geary, were returned for trial to Limerick Circuit Court last year.
They were initially arrested in April 2021, brought before Limerick District Court, and remanded on bail, arising out of a major investigation into alleged corruption in office which was led by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI).
All five accused are alleged to have being involved in attempting to square away road traffic offences for a number of individuals, which include some well-known Limerick hurlers, a politician, and a media personality, in the Limerick region, on various dates between January 2018 and September 2019.
Reading from an affidavit submitted by the DPP to the court, Senior Counsel for the DPP, Michael Delaney, said: “Many of the persons who stood to benefit from the said actions are high profile individuals connected with Limerick GAA, including several current members of the Senior County hurling panel.”
During a three-hour hearing at Limerick Circuit Court today, Mr Delaney, argued it would have been “manifestly unjust” if the trial was not moved to Dublin because the DPP had “serious concerns” there might have been a “risk” against finding an “impartial jury” in Limerick.
Mr Delaney said the DPP’s application was “triggered” by three opinion editorials written by journalist Michael Clifford and published by the Irish Examiner last year; as well as statements about the case by two TDs in the Dáil; and a news story in the clare Champion which reported the TDs comments.
Mr Delaney argued this publicity and public commentary - which he said had questioned the nature and proportionality of the garda investigation and subsequent prosecution - was “highly prejudicial” to the State’s case, that the material potentially “reflects a view on the ground in the areas of the potential jurors, which is strongly sympathetic to the accused or hostile to the investigation or both”.
Mr Delaney further argued the articles had suggested the prosecution was “disproportionate and oppressive” and had an “improper purpose”.
He also stated that comments made last year in the Dail by Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, and Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue, had been “inflammatory” and had prejudged matters.
Mr Delaney said Deputy Crowe likened the Garda investigation to the “Salem witch trials”, and Deputy O’Donoghue had argued that Gardai were being prosecuted “for doing their job”.
James Dwyer SC, who resisted the DPP’s application on behalf of all the five accused, said it had been presented in a “slightly cavalier” way, and it was “entirely without merit”.
He described Mr Clifford as “a journalist of great reputation” and that the articles in question were “balanced and carefully-worded”.
He argued there would be a “very considerable fade factor”, as the trial would not likely take place for at least a year or two.
Mr Dwyer said the DPP did not provide any evidence showing how many people in Limerick or elsewhere had read the articles, or how many people were aware of the comments made in the Dail.
He concluded there was “no evidence” to support moving the trial to Dublin.
Delivering his judgement, Judge Tom O’Donnell said the trial would “attract media attention and comment, no matter where it occurred”.
He said he was “satisfied” the DPP had “not established” its contention there might have been “a risk of an impartial jury”.
Judge O’Donnell added that as “a lawyer and a judge with forty years experience” he was “satisfied” that a Limerick jury could be trusted to hear the case impartially.
“It is the view of the court that Limerick juries have in the past proven to be robust, intelligent, well able to grasp the issues, understand and take direction from a judge, understand trial procedures and the rights of an accused, and to act impartially,” the judge said.
He adjourned the trial to the next callover of cases to fix a date for trial before Limerick Circuit Court.