Whistleblower controversy continues to dog O’Sullivan

New allegations call into question the force’s ability to reform its culture

Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD has again expressed confidence in Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan with regard to recent Garda whistleblower allegations, while replying to questions in the Dáil.

 

Any hope in Garda headquarters that the dust was settling after a testing few years has been well and truly banished with fresh allegations from whistleblowers.

It is being alleged, in protected disclosures, that there was a concerted campaign within the Garda to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe when he was blowing the whistle about the termination of penalty points and other matters.

It is now alleged by Supt Dave Taylor, formerly head of the Garda Press Office, that the media and some politicians were negatively briefed about McCabe in order to discredit him.

And it is also alleged that messages were sent between a relatively big group of senior officers with the purpose of negatively branding McCabe by rumour and innuendo, about both his professional and personal life. They all date back to the time when Martin Callinan was Garda commissioner.

Some of the allegations have been aired before.

In May of this year, John McGuinness TD claimed that when he was the chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan warned him Sgt McCabe “was not to be trusted”.

Evidence

At a PAC hearing in January 2014, Callinan had contentiously described McCabe’s actions as “disgusting”. The committee had, at the time, been considering inviting McCabe before it to give his evidence.

“The Garda Commissioner [Martin Callinan] confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him,” McGuinness told the Dáil.

“The vile stories that circulated about Garda McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda, were absolutely appalling,” he said. “Every effort was made by those within the Garda Síochána at senior level to discredit Garda Maurice McCabe.”

So, if these allegations have been aired before, why is this blowing up again?

On Monday the Tánaiste received these allegations under protected disclosure. This means they must now be formally investigated.

But the kernel of this new development can be summed up in just two words: Nóirín O’Sullivan. Already there are reports the whistleblowers will not co-operate with any inquiry – even by a judge – unless she steps aside as Garda Commissioner for a period.

Independents4Change TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly have also been calling for O’Sullivan to resign.

Daly said under Dáil privilege that the whistleblowers were alleging there was a campaign to “annihilate” one of them “with the sanction of the current and former Garda Commissioners”.

Those who have questioned the Garda’s ability to truly reform believe that, far from being the arbiter of change the Garda and its culture needed after her predecessor retired early two years ago, O’Sullivan’s appointment represents a seamless continuation of the old regime.

Policing

An articulate and adept media performer, O’Sullivan has made all the right noises so far, saying whistleblowers would be welcomed, protected and the Garda would work with them to address problems in policing.

But the only previous time the approach to whistleblowers has really been tested under O’Sullivan’s leadership occurred when McCabe came forward with his allegations about the penalty points system.

In 2014, he claimed new measures implemented to correct the abuse of the power to correct penalty points were themselves being abused.

O’Sullivan, Callinan’s deputy at the time, responded with open arms and gave him a place on an audit team in the Garda’s professional standards unit examining penalty points for abuses. It was a masterstroke and four months later, she was appointed commissioner.

But there are other issues that simply will not go away. And that’s the long-term problem for her.

The new Policing Authority has been scathing at times in its criticism of the Garda. In May, it expressed “serious concern” at the force’s treatment of victims and “dismay at the familiarity of performance failures”.

And it pointed to a “deep unease at the organisation and management culture” within the force.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has been seeking more powers, saying it is still encountering delays with getting information from the Garda that it needed for its investigations.

Unhappy

Meanwhile, the Central Statistics Office recently noted that almost one in five crimes reported by telephone to the Garda are not being entered in the force’s Pulse database.In June, a satisfaction survey release by the Garda itself showed more than 40 per cent of victims were unhappy with the force’s handling of their case.

All of these findings point to a force that is having serious problems with the basic services it should be providing.

Unfortunately for O’Sullivan, she is now long enough in the job for these to be problems of her era, not Callinan’s. It still remains to be seen whether the force can reform to the extent the oversight bodies clearly believe is needed. But the signs so far are not good.

Evidence

That on its own will not see O’Sullivan leave her post or be pushed out. On the face of it, unless direct evidence emerges linking O’Sullivan with an orchestrated campaign against McCabe, the latest protected disclosures should not hasten her exit. But they are still a major problem.

The criticism of the force generally and the pace of the change within it under her leadership has been very significantly criticised.

Already carrying that heavy load, she is now under further fire from whistleblowers. And as recent years revealed, that is a dangerous combination for the Republic’s big justice jobs.

Remember Martin Callinan, Alan Shatter, Brian Purcell; anybody?