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Tape of a conversation between Superintendent Peter O’ Neill and TV Presenter Niamh O’ Flynn on the ‘Newstime’ current affairs programme, January 2005
‘[Cameras pan to Niamh O’ Flynn, seated at a desk in a studio. Peter O’Neill sits awkwardly in a chair opposite her.]
O’ FLYNN: We’re back with a very special guest, Superintendent Peter O’Neill of the Gardai. Thank you for joining us.
O’ NEILL: My pleasure.
O’ FLYNN: The last few months have been quite traumatic for the people of the Dublin suburb of Ballyrunner. A killer was running amok and the Gardai seemed unable to stop him. Public faith in the police force plummeted. Now, the ‘Burnt Soul’, the nickname given to this individual by elements of the tabloid media, has finally been found. Are you confidant you got the right man?
O’ NEILL: Absolutely. Evidence found at the scene overwhelming supports our contention that Paul Sweeney was the Burnt Soul.
O’ FLYNN: Sweeney was shot dead in his apartment almost three weeks ago. What do you think of the allegation that the Gardai shot Sweeney dead so that he would not be able to defend himself in court?
O’ NEILL: Paul Sweeney was given every chance to surrender. He forfeited his life when he fired on a member of the Gardai. We regret that it came to this, but we have to remember that we were dealing with someone who had already killed a number of people.
O’ FLYNN: So you’re saying this person had to be stopped by any means necessary.
O’ NEILL: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. We did everything in our power to bring Sweeney in alive…
O’ FLYNN: This brings us to the worrying fact that a member of the Gardai allegedly committed these crimes. How does the public trust the force after this?
O’ NEILL: This is an issue we will be investigating. An independent tribunal, comprising members of the public and the government, is being set up to look into Garda recruitment practises and our internal controls. The public should rest assured that we will never allow this to happen again.
O’ FLYNN: Surely there should have been procedures in place to prevent this from happening in the first place?
O’ NEILL: There were…mistakes, unforgivable mistakes, made by the Gardai during the course of the investigation. I have made a public apology to the families of the victims because the force did not handle this case well enough. But, in the end, it was due to the bravery and dedication of one officer that the people of Ballyrunner can rest easy at night once more.
O’ FLYNN: Indeed. Garda Sergeant Fintan McGrath has been the hero of the hour. I believe he has been promoted since he disposed of…I mean apprehended Sweeney?
O’ NEILL: He has been promoted yes.
O’ FLYNN: Sources in the media revealed recently that McGrath was on his own when he tackled Sweeney. Are the Gardai not encouraging a gung-ho ‘Dirty Harry’ style form of policing by promoting this man?
O’ NEILL: I disagree strongly with that comment. Fintan is a credit to the force, and a man who risked his own life to bring justice to the bereaved families of Ballyrunner.
O’ FLYNN: He was also the only one present at Sweeney’s death. That means his is the only version of the events that occurred in Sweeney’s apartment…
O’NEILL: I know what you are implying and I reject that view completely. Elements in the media have been casting doubt on Fintan’s testimony since Sweeney’s death but the facts speak for themselves. There have been no deaths in Ballyrunner in over a month. Analysis of cloths and weapons in Sweeney’s apartment contained skin traces and blood that positively matched several of the victims of Burnt Soul. Thanks to Fintan, many lives have been saved.
O’ FLYNN: Have they? These killing were supposed to be revenge for a fire that severely burned one Sarah McBride. Rumours abound that the killings have ended because that vendetta is complete. All the gang members suspected of having been involved in the fire are dead.
O’ NEILL: This is nonsense and I think it is irresponsible of this programme to air such outrageous claims.
O’ FLYNN: Where is Sarah McBride?
O’ NEILL: We have officers working hard to…
O’ FLYNN: You haven’t located her?
O’NEILL: As I say, we are working…
O’ FLYNN: And yet, after all this time, she has still not been located. Some issues still remain to be resolved in this Burnt Soul investigation then.
O’ NEILL: I would not call it an issue…
O’ FLYNN: More like a loose end? One final question Superintendent. Sweeney has a motive for killing these people, being an old and close friend of Sarah McBride, but the Gardai have yet to publicly reveal how he got away with it for so long?
O’ NEILL: This will be revealed in due course by order of the tribunal.
O’ FLYNN: Thank you for your time Superintendent. [O’ Neill glowers at her but says nothing]. Many questions still remain, and it will be a long time before the people of Dublin can finally lay the spirit of Burnt Soul and his victims to rest. Join us next week when we will be discussing the government’s latest ideas for solving Dublin’s crippling traffic problem. Goodnight.’
End of tape.