The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has commented on today’s reports on the classification of homicides and allegations about Garda investigations. He said:
“I am extremely concerned about reports that unlawful deaths were not properly investigated. Any substantiated allegations of this kind would be very serious and a cause of grave public concern. The issue that has arisen in respect of homicide classification is complex and it is essential to clearly establish the facts.
“I have not received any protected disclosures or allegations that unlawful killings have not been investigated, and Garda management are adamant that all unlawful killings are investigated. I have seen no evidence to the contrary but I have today asked An Garda Síochána for further formal assurances in this regard.
“I want to clarify that the issue about the classification of homicide statistics is not new. It was identified some time ago by the Gardaí themselves and intensive work has been ongoing to resolve the issue. This work involves An Garda Síochána, the Policing Authority, the CSO and my own Department.
“The Government set up the Policing Authority to exercise rigorous independent oversight of An Garda Síochána and that is happening in respect of this issue and many others. The Authority’s ongoing scrutiny of this issue is an example of oversight in action – their approach is professional and rigorous, it is not political. Their interest, and the interest of the Government, is to see this matter resolved as soon as possible and I have made clear to the Garda Commissioner that more rapid progress is required.
“I am confident that the Policing Authority will deal with this issue comprehensively. My Department continues to provide all appropriate assistance and support.”
The issue that has arisen is about “classification” for statistical purposes. It is not about how a case was treated, whether charges were brought, if a proper investigation took place etc. In every case of suspicious death, there are procedures involving a number of independent bodies, such as the coroner, the State pathologist and the Courts where appropriate. These complex procedures can take time to work through and can lead to alterations as to how individual homicides are categorised and classified.
What is at issue is the classification of homicides. This has two aspects. First, when a homicide occurs, the offence may be classified as murder, manslaughter or violent death. Of course, in all these cases the crime would be recorded and recorded as a homicide but a murder charge may ultimately lead to a manslaughter conviction or vice versa, following the outcome of Court proceedings. Secondly, a classification error may arise when the crime changes over time, for example, an assault causing harm may subsequently result in a death some time later, necessitating a reclassification to murder or manslaughter.
An Garda Síochána initiated a review of homicide classifications, initially for the period 2013-2015 but later extended the review to cover the period from 2003-2017. This is obviously a time consuming and complex process as each set of case notes from cases over a period of twelve years needs to be carefully analysed but it is essential that experts in both An Garda Síochána and the CSO are confident that their data is robust and accurate.
The issue that has arisen in the classification of homicides was identified by the Gardaí themselves in early 2017. They began a review in conjunction with the CSO (which has legal responsibility for publishing crime statistics in Ireland) and notified the Policing Authority and the Department of Justice and Equality in late March/early April 2017.
The issue has been in the public domain in recent days because the Policing Authority, established by Government to provide oversight of An Garda Síochána, has been doing just that and the public statement issued by the Authority on Thursday is noted. The Policing Authority says it has persistently engaged with the Garda Síochána on the issue since the matter first came to its attention on 31 March 2017.
It has indicated that it is unhappy with the length of time it is taking to resolve this issue – as is Minister Flanagan, who has discussed this issue with both An Garda Síochána and the Policing Authority and stressed the need to urgently resolve matters. Officials from the Department of Justice & Equality are working with both organisations on an ongoing basis. Moreover, any suggestion that the matter will only be dealt with at the next meeting of the Policing Authority are misleading. The Policing Authority works with the Gardaí on an ongoing basis with periodic public meetings.
The Authority also says that An Garda Síochána has consistently confirmed in public and private its assurance that each death was fully investigated by An Garda Síochána.
The information received in the Department to date indicates that all of the homicides in question between 2013-2015 were fully investigated by An Garda Síochána. The Department has not received anything which contradicts this position, although the Minister is of course aware of media reports of a document which suggests otherwise. However, the Minister or the Department cannot comment on something which they have not yet seen.
If it is the case that homicides during that period have not been fully investigated, this would be a very serious matter, but again it is reiterated that neither the Minister nor the Department have received any information to indicate that this is the case.
With regard to allegations that 41 deaths required reclassification, An Garda Síochána has advised that the examination of 524 cases (for the period 2013-2015) identified 41 which required further examination and out of those 41 cases, 12 deaths were identified which required reclassifications on PULSE (i.e. a total of 2.3% of all cases reviewed). In the review of the 41 cases, it was identified that each death was fully investigated by An Garda Síochána. They have indicated that their Family Liaison Officers were in contact with the families of the 12 deceased persons whose PULSE records required reclassification.
The Authority’s next public meeting with the Garda Commissioner will take place on 22 February 2018. The Minister understands that at that meeting the Authority expects that the Acting Commissioner will:
provide an explanation as to why there are some discrepancies between 2 reports received from Gardaí by the Authority with regard to classification;
outline a process and timeframe for sampling to establish the degree to which PULSE is being updated in a timely manner with the outcomes from the Higher Courts. A court outcome may require a reclassification within a homicide, for example from murder to manslaughter and this updating is essential to ensure accurate classification; and
Discuss the process and timeframe for the review of all homicides cases from 2003-2017.
The Authority has also asked the Garda Síochána to revert with a process and timeframe for a peer review of the quality of the investigations carried out in those of the 41 cases where the investigations have not yet concluded or reached the courts.
The scrutiny of the Policing Authority is welcome. Their approach is professional, it is not political. Their interest, and the interest of the Government, is to see this matter resolved as soon as possible.
The law requires recipients of protected disclosures to protect the confidentiality of disclosers, and that principle is something that we should all bear in mind when dealing with matters that may involve the making of such disclosures to any person or body. The Minister for Justice and Equality has not received a disclosure on these matters and neither the Minister nor his Department have been made aware of any allegations that certain homicides were not properly investigated.
It is misleading to suggest that the only avenue to raise concerns is the Oireachtas Justice Committee. The Policing Authority is statutorily empowered to independently oversee An Garda Síochána and it has held public meetings at which the issue of the classification of homicides has been specifically addressed.
Additionally, if people have concerns about the way that Gardaí behaved in relation to this or any other matter, there are well-established procedures for making complaints regarding the actions of individual members of An Garda Síochána through the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).
The CSO has suspended the publication of quarterly crime statistics until the issue with homicide classifications is resolved. The CSO data is obviously important and the Minister wants to see publication resuming as soon as possible. In the meantime, of course, the Gardaí continue to collate crime data. The Minister is advised that the CSO has stated that it intends to resume publication of crime statistics in Q2, 2018.
It is important to note that the issue that has arisen may go back for some time but there is an opportunity now to identify and resolve any difficulties and introduce a durable, modern methodology.
When the Garda review is complete, Minister Flanagan expects it will be published.