Garda whistleblower inquiry to begin public proceedings
Policing Authority chair questions O’Sullivan’s ability to juggle role and tribunal
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan at the meeting between the Policing Authority and the Garda Commissioner in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
A statement from the chairman of the tribunal investigating the alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe is to be delivered on Monday morning in Dublin Castle.
The official launch of public proceedings is unexpectedly early and comes less than a fortnight after the tribunal was established and Mr Justice Peter Charleton of the Supreme Court appointed as its chair.
It comes as the chairwoman of the Policing Authority questioned the ability of the Garda Commissioner to carry out her role effectively while the Charleton tribunal is under way .
Josephine Feehily said she had a “degree of confidence” in Nóirín O’Sullivan and her senior management team to run An Garda Síochána but said the parallel requirement on the commissioner to also provide the tribunal with information raised a question.
It is understood TV that television cameras and press photographers are to be allowed record the tribunal’s opening statement but that this provision is unlikely to apply when witnesses are called to give evidence.
The collection of evidence has yet to begin. In a statement the Department of Justice said Monday’s sitting is not for applications for representation by interested parties.
“Applications for representation will be taken after the tribunal has gathered relevant material.” A detailed opening statement of counsel will follow later and then hearings will begin.
Speaking on Friday, Ms Feehily said: “I would say we have a degree of confidence but we are concerned. I’m not saying that that’s a deep concern at this point. The tribunal hasn’t begun,” said Ms Feehily.
“We have flagged that concern to the commissioner. We asked her the question in public yesterday and so I think it remains to be seen, whether the accelerator can be kept to the floor in policing, and in modernising the organisation while servicing the tribunal.”
She said: “But we do have confidence in the commissioner and her senior team’s capacity to run the gardaí.”
Ms Feehily said the work of the tribunal was hugely important but should move at pace to bring a finality to a saga which is “potentially corrosive” to policing and to Garda morale.
The tribunal will examine whether there was a smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Another whistleblower, the former head of the Garda press office Supt David Taylor, has alleged he was instructed to run a smear campaign by senior gardaí.
Ms O’Sullivan has repeatedly denied that she had knowledge of or was involved in an alleged campaign to smear Maurice McCabe.
Ms Feehily said the Charleton tribunal needed to investigate the issues which had damaged public confidence in the gardaí and the morale of members.
The tribunal would give all parties a chance to have their say, Ms Feehily told the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said he did not believe it was possible for the commissioner to remain in her role while the tribunal was running.
“My view on it, from an early stage is that is not possible. And without prejudice to her position protecting her good name, that she should stand aside and allow somebody else to do the role of the Garda Commissioner, drive the reform agenda, manage and oversee An Garda Síochána until the tribunal of inquiry is complete.
Mr Howlin said the Policing Authority did have the ability to make a recommendation to Government to ask the Garda Commissioner to stand aside.
“Obviously from what Josephine Feehily has said, they haven’t reached that position and that’s fair,” said Mr Howlin.
“But certainly there is robust legal underpinning should that decision be arrived at. It is my view that should not be necessary.”
Mr Howlin said he hoped the tribunal would move moves quickly so the “truth of these very serious matters are fully ventilated in a very public forum. We need to have that”.
“There is a concern expressed by the chair of the Garda authority in the ability of the Garda Commissioner to do all the tasks at the same time.”
Ms O’Sullivan has said she welcomed the opportunity of a tribunal of inquiry to address in public the recent controversies involving the Garda.
At a public meeting at the Policing Authority in Dublin on Thursday, Ms O’Sullivan said the Garda remained committed to providing a quality policing service, even though she was concerned about the damage done to public confidence in the force as a result of the controversy.
“We welcome the fact we will be able to deal with these issues in a public forum,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
Asked if she was concerned that public confidence in the Garda had been damaged she said the “overture of negative sentiment” undermined many institutions of the State.
“That is something that as police professionals we have to live with every day,” she said. “Am I concerned about it? Of course I am.”
The “disclosures tribunal” has been asked to look, amongst other matters, at claims made in a protected disclosure by Superintendent David Taylor, formerly of the Garda Press Office, that “ he was instructed or directed by former Commissioner Martin Callinan and/or Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, to contact the media to brief them negatively against Sergeant Maurice McCabe”.
It is also to look at allegations that the media and others may have been briefed that there were allegations of “criminal misconduct” against Sergeant McCabe, and that confidential files from the child protection agency, Tusla, may have been misused.
The tribunal is to investigate the creation, distribution and use by Tusla of a file “containing false allegations of sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe that was allegedly sent to gardaí in 2013, and whether these false allegations and/or the file were knowingly used by senior members of An Garda Síochána to discredit Sergeant McCabe.”