Barr Tribunal

The Barr Tribunal was a Public Inquiry in Ireland established by Resolutions passed by the Dáil Éireann and the Seanad Éireann on 17 and 18 April 2002, and by Instrument entitled Tribunals of Inquiry Evidence Acts 1921 (Establishment of Tribunal) Instrument (No. 2) 2002 made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 1 July 2002.

The sole member of the Tribunal was Justice Robert Barr. The Tribunal was charged with investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy (by members of the Garda Síochána) at Abbeylara, County Longford on 20 April 2000.

Chapters 1-2: Introduction & Background

John Carthy, a then 27-year-old native of Toneymore, Abbeylara, Co Longford, on 19 April 2000, went to the cabinet within which was his shotgun.

He brought it, a full box of cartridges and his gun belt back to the kitchen remonstrating, according to his mother, that "no one was going to put him out of his house". He loaded the gun with two cartridges, went outside the hall door and discharged two shots. It is not quite clear whether John then forced his mother out of the family home, or whether she left at her own volition. However, Rose Carthy left the family home and went to her sister's home, two doors away. Mrs Carthy informed the Barr Tribunal that her son did not order her out of the home, despite rumours to the contrary at the time and news reports. She was, however, very afraid for her son.

Rose Carthy asked her sister, Nancy Walsh, to ring the Gardaí in Granard, three kilometres away, to come out and "take the gun from John". Two Gardaí, John Gibbons and Colin White, were dispatched to the scene. Garda Gibbons war armed. At approximately 17:55 on Wednesday 19 April 2000 the two Gardaí drove into the driveway of the Carthy home. Two shots were fired in rapid succession from an unknown place and in an unknown direction. They quickly reversed their car and observed the Carthy home from a safer distance. At this stage John Carthy's general practitioner, Dr. Patrick Cullen, was called to the scene. While waiting for Gardaí he said that approximately ten shots were fired "out the back of the house". Detective Garda Campbell attempted to talk with John Carthy but, in his evidence, said Carthy replied with an expletive and a threat to blow his head off.

A decision was taken to deploy a party of armed local Garda around the house pending the arrival of the elite Emergency Response Unit from Dublin. The ERU team arrived with a trained negotiator: Sergeant Micheal Jackson. Among their weapons were Uzi sub-machine guns, a Heckler & Koch assault rifle, a Benelli combat shotgun and Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistols.

A two-day siege thus began. Numerous attempts to negotiate with Carthy via a loudhailer, mobile phone and landline were repeatedly responded to with expletives and the firing of shots, sometimes directly at the negotiation post itself. Various tactics were employed by the negotiator including talking to his friends, offers to talk to his sister etc. Attempts were made to find out what the source of Johns difficulty was, what, if any, his demands were etc. Various attempts to open a dialogue were rebuffed.

John made somewhat confusing and poorly worded demands for cigarettes and a solicitor. To the former, the negotiator saw this as a way of opening a dialogue so he told him all they needed to do was ensure a safe method of delivery. In this Sergeant Jackson was technically breaking the negotiators rule 'no concession without one in exchange' but felt it worth it as it might calm him and build some trust. He repeatedly told John that someone could approach to leave them nearby if he put the gun on the table (beside which he was looking out the window towards the negotiation post as he was talking to Jackson) and kept his hands in view. John replied with various rebuffs including 'don't bother, don't bother'. As to the solicitor he was told they could not send one in while he still had the gun, as this appeared to be what John wanted. However they could get one on the phone to advise him if he could tell them who to get in touch with. Jackson feared that having someone encroach on the home while Carthy was resting, to drop cigarettes covertly, might cause Carthy irritation at the invasion of his security. Carthy was quite vague on the identity of the solicitor and the scene commander thought it a waste of time to get one from the locality. At 12.24 pm, John Carthy telephoned a friend, Kevin Ireland, he informed him he hadn't a notion of hurting anyone, that he was simply keeping them at bay with the gun, and that he wanted a solicitor, one by the name of "Mick Finucane". Kevin Ireland was not properly debriefed on this conversation by Garda officers and this critical information did not reach the negotiator. Carthy was confused about the identity of who he wanted. It is likely, that he was alluding to Michael Finucane, the Belfast solicitor and son of the assassinated Pat Finucane.

At approximately 5:55 p.m. on day two of the siege, Carthy exited the house. There were yells of armed Gardi drop your gun and various words to that effect. Jackson asked Carthy in a more direct and pleading tone, noted in its distinct nature by witnesses, to drop the weapon. Jackson reluctantly drew his Sig Saur pistol and attempted to bring Carthy down without killing him, with two shots to his legs. These shots did not bring him down and he appeared not to notice them. In these crucial seconds, which the Tribunal found to be around a minute's duration, the ERU team was hesitating on opening fire, continuing to plead with John Carthy to surrender. The hesitation was so complete that local armed officers in the outer perimeter began to think the ERU team would not fire and one remarked we're gonna have to do it ourselves and was within a second of opening fire when Garda McCabe took action. Garda McCabe fired his Uzi at Carthy once, then again, both in the torso. On the fourth shot, Carthy collapsed onto his side.

The ERU team moved in to disarm him and turning him onto his back saw he was critically injured. Medical help was summoned and they began immediate CPR. Despite various attempts to revive him, Carthy died quickly.

His sister, Maire Carthy, held a press conference calling for a public inquiry. A Garda investigation found no wrongdoing by the ERU team. A later FBI report concluded that the ERU team hesitated too long in allowing Carthy to cross the inner perimeter. An Oireachtas inquiry was undertaken but shut down by the Supreme Court.

Chapters 3/8: John Carthy's Background

John Carthy was born on 9 October 1972

John had suffered from Bipolar disorder from around the time of his fathers death in 1990, but had controlled his illness well. He had a deep connection to his father and grandfather, was employed locally and had several friends in the locality. From 1992 John Carthy possessed a licence for a shotgun which he used to shoot game with friends. It was a Russian-made 12 bore, double-barreled weapon, maintained in good condition.

John Carthy's other sporting activity was handball for which he had a substantial reputation. In 1997/8 he was involved in rebuilding the handball court in Abbeylara which had become dilapidated and unfit for use. It appears that a problem emerged after its rehabilitation in that the court was frequently occupied by children and John Carthy had difficulty in finding a convenient slot in which to play. This upset him and appears to have caused him significant annoyance.

The two senior psychiatrists, Dr. McGeown and Dr. Shanley, who treated him on numerous occasions and at some length for mental illness described their patient as being in the words of Dr. McGeown ‘‘a sensitive, diffident young man, probably relatively easily upset by any kind of physical or emotional trauma’’. His sister described him as "intelligent, popular, hardworking, witty, gentle and a man who never let anyone down".

Dr. Shanley never witnessed John Carthy being aggressive. In his opinion he did not have an aggressive personality. (‘‘He was a quiet, very sensitive sort of person’’). Dr. Bluett, John Carthy’s general practitioner in Galway, assessed his patient as being ‘‘quiet and affable’’. However, exacerbation's of his bipolar disorder from time to time whether depressive, hypo-manic or manic brought about substantial deterioration in his personality and on occasions led to delusions.

The tribunal found that in the period running up to the Siege however, a series of crises combined to worsen John's depression and were likely contributory factors to his behavior on the day of the siege:

It is useful to examine a letter John Carthy sent to the ex-girlfriend after their breakup. The tribunal found that it showed he had what psychiatrists refer to as 'insight' (Awareness of his illness and some conscious control over it) and was aware that his recent life experiences had forced a major downturn in his depression: "The way I have been acting in the last few weeks has put a lot of strain both on you and those closest to me. Marie in particular has been very upset and my friendship with ‘‘Pepper’’ has been put under strain. To them I owe a lot. But it is you [X], I have hurt most and it is this that upsets me most. I do not wish to use this problem as an excuse for my behavior but it is this that has made me so impatient and argumentative and so overbearing over the last while. I admire you for your honesty and you should always be in the future as trust is always best, in the long run. I am sure we would be still together were it not for me being elated and my mood swings."(The full letter is contained in Chapter 8 of the Barr Tribunal Report)

The Tribunal, while understanding that Garda officers might occasionally have to resort to subterfuge to obtain a gun from someone as a less unethical alternative to using force to take it from them, decided that the fact that this was done based on unsubstantiated information that was not properly investigated was unacceptable misconduct by the Garda in question.

A local GAA teams mascot, in the form of a mock-goat on top of a car transporter decked in the teams colors, had been gutted by a fire not long before the siege. A Garda at Johns local station was phoned by another Garda in another district, who provided a lead on this crime. His 'lead', barely deserved to be called that. There were no named witnesses, there was no formal complaint, there was no formal description of the crime or specifics whatsoever, just vague accusations that he was the 'one who did it'. Garda Turlough Bruen of Granard Garda station arrested John Carthy and, the tribunal was satisfied, along with Garda McHugh, subjected him to a lengthy interrogation, during which he was physically assaulted in an attempt to coerce him into a confession. Carthys gun had been taken from him, as outlined above, just before this and when told he had to report to the station he assumed it was to discuss its return. The actions of Garda Turlough and Garda McHugh are even more outrageous, the tribunal found, given that Carthy was aware that the source of this false allegation was a former employer he was having a dispute with and Carty had already made the Garda station in question aware of the slanderous accusations and their lack of basis in fact.

These two false accusations and misconduct by police, the tribunal found, poisoned the relationship between Carthy and the police forever, and had this misconduct not taken place, the negotiator at the siege might have found it easier to build a rapport and dialogue with Carthy. But with the experience of having twice been the subject of police misconduct as retaliation for things he had not even done, there was no possibility of him ever trusting the police again.

Psychiatric evidence presented to the tribunal indicated that. through the lens of his worsening depression, he viewed these events as his life becoming progressively worse and the home was the last positive thing left he had to defend. This combined with his negative view of the police as a result of his false arrest, accounted for his hostility to Garda officers at the scene.

Chapters 4-7: The Siege and uncontrolled exit

The tribunal contained the following findings in relation to the management of the siege and the uncontrolled exit:

Indeed, the experts noted that the entire point of having a national specialist firearms unit like the ERU, is to allow them to take over local armed situations to release the local police to return to their regular duties. There seemed to be many hanging around to see what happens and this not only was bad practice on its own but made those individuals potential targets when Carthy came out causing them to run for cover upon his exit. Indeed, the scene commander recalled yelling at them to get back and get under cover when Carthy emerged.

1. Superintendent Shelly’s negligence in not personally interviewing Dr. Cullen (the subject’s general medical practitioner) as a matter of urgency during the evening of 19th April or, alternatively, having him interviewed in depth at that time by an experienced senior officer, is extraordinary. 2. It is pertinent to state also that Superintendent Shelly appears to have done very little, if anything, in his adopted role of intelligence co-coordinator. 3. It ought to have been apparent to all concerned that Mr. Carthy's particular agitation and violent conduct within the house during the late afternoon of 20th April probably indicated that he regarded himself as being near the end of his tether at that time. Bearing that in mind, the possibility that he might leave the house armed with his gun became a more likely reality. That being so, the importance of clearing the road to Abbeylara of vehicles, including the command jeep, and all personnel, not only police but civilians also, ought to have been apparent to the scene commander and to the ERU tactical commander. ... The greatest Garda mistake at Abbeylara was not preparing for an uncontrolled exit by Mr. Carthy from his house 4. Failure to provide a solicitor for John Carthy at the scene as requested by him

Chapters 9: The Conduct of the Media

In addition to the above findings the Barr Tribunal was particularly critical of the Irish media. This is worthy of note, despite the fact that the media organizations concerned did not accentuate this aspect of the report.

Judge Barr found the RTÉ's Five Seven Live radio show was particularly irresponsible in naming John Carthy and Barr adjudged that "the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy as specified in the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference include matters which add[ed] to or could have potential for aggravating the deceased’s apparently serious mental distress which became progressively more severe as the episode at Abbeylara continued (vide the evidence of Dr. John Sheehan and other psychiatrists given at the Tribunal), and in consequence the potential for undermining the possibility of successful dialogue between the Garda negotiator and John Carthy which might have avoided the circumstances that gave rise to his death."[12] In addition to RTÉ, the Sunday Independent was also strongly criticised, particularly an article entitled Dramatic New Evidence in Abbeylara Case with beneath it a subsidiary headline "Abbeylara family row over land may have affected siege victim Carthy’s state of mind prior to his death".

That article was published on 31 October 2004 and Justice Barr found it to be full of factual errors. He speculated it was the result of attempts to discredit his sister by Garda officers as it was her contention that she could have served as a better intermediary than those tried and was prevented from going to the negotiation point. The Tribunal noted that the Carthy family had sued that particular newspaper for the article in question, and that the Sunday Independent had settled out of court before the trial.

Chapters 10-12: Garda Conduct in the context of International Best Practice

The tribunal found that Garda conduct in relation to the organization and operation of the ERU was within international norms. However, there were several critical deficiencies:

Chapters 13: Gun Law in Ireland

The Tribunal found Irish firearms laws fragmented and poorly focused. A summary of Irish firearms law was given:

(a) has a good reason for requiring the firearm in respect of which the certificate is applied for, and

(b) can be permitted to have in his possession, use and carry a firearm without danger to the public safety or to the peace, and

(c) is not a person declared by this Act to be disentitled to hold a firearms certificate. They include, inter alia, any person of intemperate habits, any person of unsound mind and any person who is subject to the supervision of the police. A person of ‘‘unsound mind’’ is not defined in the firearms legislation. However, it is referred to (rather than defined) in the Mental Treatment Act, 1945 as a person who requires detention for protection and care and who is unlikely to recover within a six-month period. The Mental Health Act, 2001 does not utilise the term ‘‘unsound mind’’.

(a) has no good reason for requiring the firearm to which the certificate relates, or

(b) is a person who cannot, without danger to the public safety or the peace be permitted to have a firearm in his possession, or

(c) is a person who is declared by this Act to be disentitled to hold a firearm certificate, or

(d) where the firearm certificate limits the purpose for which the firearm to which it relates may be used, is using such firearm for purposes not authorized by the certificate.

Chapters 14: Consideration of 'Suicide by Cop' Scenario

The tribunal asked international experts in policing and psychological experts to examine the Abbylara scenario for evidence of suicide by cop. While some of the police experts suspected it, the majority of the psychological experts with experience and expertise in this area said it was probably not the case. Carthys bipolar disorder was in the manic or 'elated' stage where one is pumped up rather than depressed, as evidenced by him pacing around the house, engaging in bravado and banging his shotgun on the table beside the window he used to talk to the negotiator. However, because he had several times yelled shoot me or come in and get me the tribunal found that suicide by cop had to be explored.

The tribunal was satisfied that this was not the case, noting that he passed several ERU members he could have provoked into shooting him, and indeed one of them was standing in full view on the boundary wall between the two houses, it seemed logical that leveling the rifle at him would have resulted in a hail of fire in his direction quickly, but he did not do this.

The tribunal considered what Carthy was thinking upon exiting the house. While some of it is by nature guesswork a theory can be formulated based on his background, statements and previous actions. Mr Justice Barr concluded he may have intended to surrender his gun to his family rather than the police. He acknowledged the ERU team had no way of knowing this and could not have just let him walk off with his gun as he might have posed a danger to the public.

Chapters 15: Recommendations

Publication & Reaction

The Tribunal reported its findings on 20 July 2006 in a 740-page report following four years of investigations at a cost of €18 million.

The Garda Commissioner, saying Barr had four years, the officers on the ground had mere seconds, was reluctant to apologize to the family. He eventually did, as did the government, for their failure to have appropriate structures and practices in place to manage the siege more effectively.

The Garda armed service units have since been radically reorganized, while the ERU remains they are supplemented by skilled regional support units that are trained to nearly the same level. Several interventions of both the ERU and RSU teams have taken place since the Carthy siege and due to implementation of the Barr Tribunal reforms, only one of them has resulted in loss of life by civilian or police alike.

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    External links

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