New PAC divisions ahead of decision on points hearing

Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe wants to give evidence in private on Thursday

Gara Commissioner Martin Callinan appearing before the PAC this morning. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan giving evidence to the PAC last week

Gara Commissioner Martin Callinan appearing before the PAC this morning. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan giving evidence to the PAC last week

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 11:30

Fresh divisions surfaced today within the Public Accounts Committee ahead of a key meeting this afternoon on the penalty points debacle.

The emergent split underscores uncertainty over its response to a request from serving Garda whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, to give evidence in private to the committee on Thursday.

Sgt McCabe is understood to be informing Garda management of his intentions this morning. It remains unclear whether Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan will challenge any such hearing in the courts.

The situation has been transformed by the decision of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter yesterday to call for a Garda Ombudsman investigation into the points affair.

Although Sgt McCabe told the PAC last night that he still wishes to give evidence, some members on the Government flank of the PAC want it to suspend its inquiry pending the Garda Ombudsman investigation.

The committee gathers in private session at 4.30pm in Leinster House to discuss Sgt McCabe’s request.

A Government member of the committee said this morning that the matter may well go to a vote, which would be highly unusual for the PAC.

In spite of reluctance within the committee to be seen not to take evidence from a whistleblower, there is a sense among Government TDs that the Ombudsman’s work should now take precedence.

The Ombudsman Commission has already declared a preference to carry out its work “unhindered”.

The Coalition parties have a clear majority on the PAC so a motion to stand back might well be passed if the committee cannot reach consensus.

However, PAC members on the Opposition side want the committee’s work to proceed.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming insisted this morning that the PAC’s inquiry should proceed. “Hopefully nobody even contemplate for a moment that parliament should stand aside. That’s a nonsense concept”, he said. He pointed out that Oireachtas committees generally were never disrupted by the work of ombudsmen in the financial services sector.

Such sentiments were echoed by Sinn Féin committee member Mary Lou McDonald . “I believe that we should,” she said when asked on RTÉ radio this morning whether the PAC hearing should go ahead.

Still, there is considerable anxiety on the part of some members on the Government about the merits of proceeding now that the Ombudsman’s inquiry is imminent.

The PAC is set to take legal advice this afternoon, but it has already been warned that its risks straying beyond its formal mandate. This has prompted concern within the committee that it would not be able to withstand any legal challenge from Mr Callinan to the taking of evidence from a Garda whistleblower.

“There cannot be a parallel process,” Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said last night. “The Minister has established the right process and that’s the one that should be followed.”

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