Victim of Garda abuse calls for 'level playing field' at tribunal

Frank McBrearty snr tells Village that victims of Garda abuse cannot afford legal fees. Meanwhile the government pays Department of Justice and Garda lawyers at the Morris tribunal over €7m. By Frank Connolly

Lawyers representing the Department of Justice, the Garda Commissioner and Garda representative bodies at the Morris tribunal have been paid more than €7m since public hearings at the inquiry commenced in 2002.

In contrast, lawyers representing the main victims of Garda corruption in the Donegal division, including members of the extended McBrearty family, have not been paid on the same ongoing basis as the state's legal teams.

In a reply to a Dáil question by Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan on 2 November, the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, confirmed the legal team acting for Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy has received payments of just over €6m.

The top earner, Patrick Marrinan SC, received €2.01m in fees since 2002. Michael Durack SC has received €1.7m while Tara Burns BL has received €1.09m.

The figures released by Michael McDowell show that one of his closest friends and legal associates, Paul O'Higgins SC, has been paid a total of almost €300,000 in tribunal fees by the department.

The department has also paid a total of €205,000 to junior counsel Feargal Foley, and almost €50,000 to Mary Kerrigan BL for their work with the tribunal.

The fees paid to the Garda Commissioner's legal team include the costs arising from representation for a number of senior officers who have been accused by tribunal chairman Justice Frederick Morris of obstructing the inquiry and, in at least one case, of committing perjury before it.

Retired detective inspector John McGinley told the tribunal in recent weeks that he had previously given false evidence to the inquiry in relation to the investigation into the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron in Raphoe, Co Donegal in October 1996.

The minister also confirmed to Bernard Durkan that €609,538 has been paid to solicitors for the Garda Representative Association for work associated with the first module of the tribunal into the death of Richie Barron. However, certain fees were withdrawn in respect of gardaí who obstructed or failed to cooperate with the tribunal, the minister said.

"Care was taken in the settlement of this bill of costs to ensure that all aspects of Judge Morris's ruling were complied with, particularly in respect of members whose costs were reduced or refused by reason of their non-cooperation or obstruction," the minister said in his Dáil reply.

He said 70 members and former members of An Garda Siochána are not represented by the state "either because they have so elected or where their actions are considered by the Garda Commissioner to be clearly in conflict with their positions as members of the Garda Siochána from the outset."Garda victims

Last month, Frederick Morris warned Frank McBrearty snr, whose son Frank jnr and nephew Mark McConnell were wrongly accused of involvement in Richie Barron's death, that he could be forced to pay some of the tribunal's costs if he refused to be cross-examined by lawyers acting for the Garda and the Department of Justice.

He and his son have said they will not face cross-examination at the tribunal unless there is a guarantee their lawyers will be paid on the same ongoing basis as the state's legal teams.

While his legal team has received some costs from their participation in the early modules of the tribunal, he cannot afford to retain them on an ongoing basis, he said.

"If my lawyers were to stay at the tribunal for all the modules I would have to pay them but I refused as I don't have any money. The other victims of Garda abuse are ordinary people and could not afford to pay legal fees on an ongoing basis either," Frank McBrearty snr told Village.

"The reason I will not be cross-examined by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice is because I want a level playing field where our lawyers are paid on the same ongoing basis as their lawyers are."