Full text of Minister for Justice’s speech on whistleblower controversy

Alan Shatter tells Dáil ‘none of FF’s political charges are true’

Wed, Feb 26, 2014, 10:45

The following is the full text of a speech to the Dáil by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter during statements on allegations in relation to An Garda Síochána on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

I want to say, initially, that Deputy Martin was quite right to hand over to An Taoiseach last week material which he had received from a member of An Garda Síochána, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

An Taoiseach acknowledged that they were serious matters and undertook to review them.

If Deputy Martin’s primary motivation was to have these allegations examined, the proper course of action would have been to let An Taoiseach, who made it clear that he was treating the matter as one of the utmost seriousness, proceed with that examination and respond to the Deputy.

Instead, the Deputy came into this House last Thursday brandishing a document which he said was in my possession for two years. What the Deputy’s allegations amounted to was this: very serious allegations against the Gardaí had not been addressed, I had done nothing about them and I had not responded to correspondence from Sergeant McCabe.

The manner in which Deputy Martin presented the matter understandably led most people to believe that the allegations made had never before been addressed, had only arisen since my appointment as Minister, that the cases concerned had only arisen during my time in office and he sought to copper fasten this impression by accusing me of undermining the administration of justice in this State. No timeline was given by Deputy Martin for the cases investigated by An Garda Siochana or which had come before our courts. Moreover, no distinction was made by him between operational matters which are the responsibility of An Garda Siochana and policy issues which are my responsibility, a distinction well understood by my Fianna Fáil predecessors in Justice.

I intend to demonstrate to the House today that none of Deputy Martin’s political charges are true.

Deputy Martin has spoken much in recent days about the maladministration of justice. There are of course fundamental principles of justice that are crucial to this State. They concern fundamental constitutional and human rights and the rule of law - something to which I have been passionately committed throughout my adult life.

As Minister, I cannot opt to respect the rights of one person and ignore the rights of others. Put simply, while, of course, any allegations of wrongdoing must be taken seriously, allegations are not facts. I cannot proceed on an assumption that allegations made by one member of An Garda Síochána against many of his colleagues are correct and ignore the rights of those against whom allegations are made. This basic principle holds whether we are talking about An Garda Síochána or any other organisation, group or individual.

I have no doubt that many people outside this House must find the twists and turns in relation to what, by any standards, is a complex set of circumstances bewildering but I am sure that they clearly understand one thing: allegations are not facts and that basic fairness requires when allegations are made against people they should not be assumed to be guilty without hearing the other side of the story or without evidence. What is crucial is that the evidence for allegations made is carefully and properly examined. Allegations may ultimately be proved to be true, partially true or false. Where false, the original allegation need not in any way be malicious but may derive from a mistaken perception or understanding of events. Life is complicated, not everything is simply black and white.

As Minister I am solemnly bound to protect the rights of all citizens, be they Gardaí or anyone else, and to behave at all times in accordance with our laws.

I want to make it clear that I have no animosity towards Sergeant McCabe. I have previously acknowledged that important changes have been implemented with regard to the fixed charge notice system arising from matters raised by Sergeant McCabe. I have absolutely no wish to have a continuing public, or indeed private, dispute with a serving member of An Garda Síochána. I believe it is of crucial importance that whistleblowers are treated with respect and their allegations taken seriously. I will return at a later stage to one matter relating to the ticket charge issue.

Unfortunately, today, we have reached a situation where other allegations made by Sergeant McCabe have become caught up in partisan and divisive political debate. If all sides of the House can agree on one thing today, surely it is this: the legal arrangements for dealing with Garda whistleblowers have failed when these matters are being dealt with across the floor of this House where the Deputies opposite seek political advantage, and apparently do not mind what damage they might do to An Garda Síochána and those who serve in it. In the case of Sinn Féin, I will simply observe that old habits die hard. But I have to say frankly to Deputy Martin, that whatever political disagreements I may have had with Fianna Fail over the years, I think many of the former statesmen in his party would be appalled by the cavalier attitude he has taken to An Garda Síochána against whom he has made the most serious allegations without waiting to establish the truth or otherwise of them. I regret, in particular, the lack of regard he has shown to the Office of the Garda Commissioner, which is at present occupied by a person appointed by the Government of which he was a member – which no doubt made the appointment on the basis of their full confidence in him.

In fairness to members of An Garda Síochána, I cannot simply take at face value very serious allegations made against them and assume they are guilty until proven innocent. This is not the approach of our legal system nor is it compatible with concepts of Constitutional Justice and Human Rights. I also have to be careful in my presentation to this House today not to stray into areas that are matters in contention currently between Sergeant McCabe and the State and which are the subject of Court proceedings taken by him. I hope Members of the House will appreciate that, during this debate, we all have to respect the existence of two sets of legal proceedings which Sergeant McCabe has taken, one set initiated in 2009 which includes the Minister for Justice as a named defendant and a second set initiated in 2011 in which the Minister for Justice is not named as a defendant. In both sets of proceedings the Garda Commissioner is so named.

In relation to the allegations which Deputy Martin made in the House last Thursday and which he has repeated at every opportunity both inside and outside the House since then, I want to deal first of all with the entirely incorrect assertion that nothing had been done in relation to a series of serious allegations involving Garda misbehaviour.

The Garda Síochána Act, 2005, - introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Michael Mc Dowell - into this House contains clear legal procedures for dealing with alleged misbehaviour by members of An Garda Síochána. I am not going to make much of the fact that the behaviour which Deputy Martin characterised as maladministration of justice took place long before I took office. But the key fact is that all of the cases brought to my attention on 23rd January 2012 occurred in the 2007/2008 period and they were all addressed under the arrangements which the Government of which he was a member put in place, in the light of the findings of the Morris Tribunal. Far from nothing being done, it seems to me from my review of the papers relating to this matter, that those procedures were observed.

In 2008, Sergeant McCabe made a written complaint to Garda Headquarters alleging neglect of duty and other malpractice by Gardaí at Bailieboro Garda Station, and failure by the Superintendent to respond properly when Sergeant McCabe had brought these concerns to his attention. Sergeant McCabe also claimed that he had been victimised. A Chief Superintendent was appointed to investigate these allegations.

Later in 2008, the then Garda Commissioner received an anonymised complaint (which turned out to be from Sergeant McCabe) from the then Garda Confidential Recipient, Brian McCarthy, making allegations in relation to malpractice at Bailieboro Garda Station, and in relation to the failure of senior Gardaí at the station to respond to these concerns when they had been brought to their attention. An Assistant Commissioner was appointed to investigate these allegations.

The allegations covered cases such as the failure to notify a court in a child abduction case that the accused was already on bail facing serious charge; failure to properly investigate several cases; failure to forward a report relating to poor standards at Bailieboro Station; falsification of records; failure to deal with sexual harassment of a female Garda; and the giving of a direction to Sergeant McCabe to cease assessing and monitoring probationer Gardaí. In 2009, the Garda Commissioner received a further report from the same Confidential Recipient, in which Sergeant McCabe alleged harassment and victimisation arising by the making by him of the first report. Later in 2009, a further report was received from the Confidential Recipient again relating to harassment. The Assistant Commissioner, along with the Chief Superintendent, were appointed to investigate these allegations too.

In case Deputy Martin is concerned that this was not the correct procedure, it might be helpful to point out that Sergeant McCabe in 2009 wrote to the then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, alerting him to the fact that he had made a complaint about malpractice and corruption in the Bailieboro Garda District. In this letter, Sergeant McCabe claimed that, although a preliminary report into his complaint had revealed bad practice and procedure, the Chief Superintendent for the Division had publicly rubbished the complaint, and the Sergeant called on the Minister to ask for an independent person to oversee the investigation. The Minister replied, through his Private Secretary, that the conduct of the investigation was a matter for the Garda Commissioner, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act, 2005, that the Minister had no role in directing the Commissioner in such operational matters, and that, in the circumstances, the most appropriate action was to allow the Commissioner to complete his work and let due process take its course. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not criticising the response of my predecessor to Sergeant McCabe although I accept, of course, that it might have been helpful to Deputy Martin if he had been aware of it.

The investigation by the Assistant Commissioner over a lengthy period culminated in the submission of 10 volumes of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who - of course independently - directed that no prosecutions were warranted. [The investigation did result in disciplinary action against a number of Gardaí]

It is very important to note that, under the legal procedures in place, the Confidential Recipient and, crucially, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman were informed of these matters. The thinking behind the provisions of the 2005 Act was this: the Garda Síochána Ombudsman was to be advised by the Garda Commissioner of complaints received by the Confidential Recipient so that it could initiate its own investigation in the public interest if it considered it warranted to do so. The fact that this could happen would also act as a form of ‘quality control’ in relation to any Garda investigation. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission were informed in June, 2010 of the progress of the Assistant Commissioner’s investigation and, shortly afterwards, of the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions. While GSOC dealt with a small number of relevant complaints which had been made to it - and which I will deal with in a moment - it does not appear to have felt it necessary to take any further action.