Leaks designed to do ‘maximum damage’ to reputation, says O’Sullivan

Erroneous media reports made former Garda commissioner feel ‘isolated’, tribunal hears

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal  in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has claimed that deliberate and selective leaks to the media about the O’Higgins commission in 2016 were designed to do “maximum damage” to her position and her reputation.

During her second day in the witness box at the Charleton tribunal, Ms O’Sullivan said the leaks from the commission were “designed to put me in a position where I could not respond”.

She was giving evidence about media reports in 2016 that her instructions to her legal team at the private hearings of the O’Higgins commission, which examined allegations of malpractice in the force, had been to attack whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe’s integrity at a time when she was supporting him in public.

The proceedings of the commission were, under law, confidential, Ms O’Sullivan told Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal. This meant she was limited in what she could say in response.

The tribunal is examining whether the then commissioner used unjustified grounds at the commission to try to discredit Sgt McCabe.

Emotional toll

The tribunal heard that in a submission made in 2015 on behalf of Ms O’Sullivan to the commission, it was stated that the complaints made by Sgt McCabe against Garda officers had taken an emotion toll and had reputational effect, with some “being forced to resign from their position”.

When Ms O’Sullivan suggested that former commissioner Martin Callinan had resigned because of Sgt McCabe’s complaint against him, Sgt McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell SC, said this was “a dark lie”.

Ms O’Sullivan said the fact was that an allegation of corruption had been made against Mr Callinan. Whether that contributed to his resignation was a matter for him.

Mr McDowell said that Sgt McCabe had believed that Ms O’Sullivan instructed her legal team to attack him and that this was reason for him to think that the “nice HR talk” occurring outside the commission hearings was “wholly insincere and wholly hypocritical”.

Support

Ms O’Sullivan responded that the effort she devoted to providing support for Sgt McCabe when she was in charge of national security and facing significant national and international challenges, was not insincere or hypocritical. Anyone who thought otherwise was “very mistaken”.

The former commissioner said the media reports in 2016 contained errors which she could not address, yet these had led to calls for her to consider her position. She felt she was left in a “very isolated position” politically.

The tribunal heard evidence of a letter written by her to the then tánaiste and minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald in the wake of the media reports. Ms O’Sullivan said it was one of the most important letters she had ever been required to write and that her position as commissioner depended on it. Among those who assisted her in writing it was the public relations professional Terry Prone.

Mr McDowell continues his examination of Ms O’Sullivan today.