Garda Commissioner holds ground amid fresh accusations

Mick Wallace left red-faced as O’Sullivan tells committee how she conquered headhunters

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has denied claims of nepotism under her leadership of the Gardai, including claims relating to the roles of her husband and her “bridesmaid”, while under cross-examination at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice.

 

“You promoted your husband, your bridesmaid; you’ve surrounded yourself with your supporters rather than concentrate on promoting quality.

“When you replaced commissioner Callinan, there hasn’t really been a serious change to the hierarchy and really things are much like they were, commissioner. What do you think of that?”

As it turned out, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan didn’t care very much at all for what Mick Wallace TD had put to her.

In reply to him during a lively exchange before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, she said she had never even had bridesmaids when she got married.

She said nothing directly about her husband, Chief Supt Jim McGowan, save to suggest nobody in the Garda should be defined by their relationships with others, marriage included. She also reminded Wallace that the promotions process within the Garda was run by an independent board.

Her retort about her bridesmaid, or lack thereof, got a great laugh in a room packed with much of the top brass from Garda Headquarters.

And when the camera panned back to Wallace, he had a face like a child who’d just been caught stealing sweets in the corner shop.

But the funny-cum-bizarre exchange aside, Wallace’s allegations, sweeping and all as they were, go to the heart of the controversy that O’Sullivan is now caught up in.

The big charge is that she represents a “more of the same” culture rather than a new chapter for Irish policing.

Ghosts

That the ghosts of the recent past have come up out of the ground to spook her is without doubt. Whether it will turn into a full-blown haunting should become clear by the end of next month when a six-week examination of fresh whistleblowers’ claims by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill will be completed.

It emerged last week that at least two serving Garda members have made protected disclosures claiming an orchestrated campaign to smear original whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

One of those making the allegations is Supt Dave Taylor, the former head of the Garda Press Office. He has said texts on his phone will prove the campaign.

His phone is being held by the Garda as part of an inquiry into Taylor over allegations he disclosed information to the media in the period after he left the press office.

His allegations of a smear campaign have become a major issue for O’Sullivan even though it all dates back to the period when Martin Callinan was commissioner.

As Clare Daly TD put it under legal privilege in the Dáil last week, the allegation is that the smear campaign was done “with the sanction of the current and former Garda commissioners”. If it is proven, O’Sullivan won’t last. She knows it and she moved to address the matter yesterday.

“I am not privy to, nor did I approve, nor would I condone any campaign of harassment or any campaign to malign any individual employee,” she said in reply to a question from Daly. She added the Garda would fully co-operate with the initial examination of the whistleblowers’ claims by Mr Justice O’Neill, including technical pieces of evidence such as mobile phones.

Long haul

While she has faced calls from some quarters – Daly and Wallace to be precise – to temporarily step aside while the allegations are being investigated, O’Sullivan sounded very much like she was in it for the long haul.

She reminded those present that she had secured her position after winning “an international head-hunt”.

“I didn’t get this job easy nor did I expect to get it easy. And actually it reinforces my confidence in my own ability.