Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has moved to address claims she instructed a barrister to “attack” Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe’s motivation and character during private proceedings at the O’Higgins commission of investigation.
“I want to make it clear that I do not, and have never, regarded Sgt McCabe as malicious,” Ms O’Sullivan said in a statement on Monday night.
At the time of the hearing in autumn 2014, Ms O’Sullivan had made supportive comments about Sgt McCabe in public and asked him to join a Garda professional standards unit audit that was investigating some of his allegations about the termination of penalty points.
She said Sgt McCabe’s contribution was valued and that in general terms the Garda had changed for the better because of his complaints.
She noted that “dissent was not the same as disloyalty”.
Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins investigated allegations of inaction and corruption made against some gardaí in the Cavan-Monaghan division and senior officers leading the force at the time.
He concluded many of Sgt McCabe’s allegations were borne out, though others were inaccurate or exaggerated.
The commission did not reach findings of corruption against Garda members and rejected a suggestion that Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor Martin Callinan had acted corruptly. The commission found former minister for justice Alan Shatter responded appropriately to Sgt McCabe's allegations.
Mr Justice O’Higgins also found many errors in the Garda’s investigation of serious crimes, noting that victims were let down.
In her statement on Monday night, Ms O’Sullivan said: “We are sorry the victims did not get the service they were entitled to, and we will seek to work with them.”
The Irish Examiner last week reported details of what it said were documents relating to the commission's work. It claimed the documents showed that when Mr Justice O'Higgins asked the commissioner's barrister whether "you are attacking [Sgt McCabe's] motivation and attacking his character", counsel for the commissioner replied: "Right the way through."
The barrister is said to have explained he was acting on instruction in that regard. However, there was no mention of the exchange in the commission’s final report.
Ms O'Sullivan's statement came just a day after Minister for Communications Denis Naughten became the first Cabinet member to express concern about the alleged remarks. There is anxiety in Garda headquarters that the controversy could escalate politically because of Mr Naughten's comments.
The O’Higgins report is likely to be raised in the Dáil today. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had described Ms O’Sullivan’s alleged comments about Sgt McCabe as “disturbing” and called on her to clarify the claims but it was unclear last night if her statement would end the controversy.
When it was first alleged Ms O’Sullivan sent her barrister into the O’Higgins commission to “attack” the character and motivation of Sgt McCabe, the commissioner said she could not comment on evidence given in private.
However, Labour leader Joan Burton on Monday said Ms O'Sullivan was wrong and there was nothing to stop her addressing the allegation made against her.