Minister welcomes ‘regret’ over PSNI controversy

Calls for Stephen Martin to step down following his handling of sexual assault matter

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was said to welcome Stephen Martin’s statement that he ‘would approach the matter differently now and would meet Ms McGrotty’. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was said to welcome Stephen Martin’s statement that he ‘would approach the matter differently now and would meet Ms McGrotty’. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has welcomed a statement by a member of the Policing Authority expressing regret over his handling of an alleged workplace sexual assault.

Stephen Martin, who was formerly deputy chief constable of the PSNI, continues to face calls to step down from the authority over the matter.

On Sunday, Social Democrats leader Catherine Murphy told RTÉ she doubts it is tenable for Mr Martin to remain in his position. Sinn Féin and Labour have made similar comments.

Mr Martin was appointed to the Policing Authority, which oversees the Garda, in February 2021 by Ms McEntee.

The controversy involves allegations made by a civilian PSNI employee Sinead McGrotty against Detective Constable Ronan Sharkie.

Ms McGrotty told the BBC that Mr Sharkie slapped her on the buttocks, grabbed her breasts and made several highly offensive remarks over a period of time.

The detective later admitted to inappropriately touching Ms McGrotty and was issued a £250 fine. However there was no criminal prosecution. PSNI management also banned Mr Sharkie from working in the distract where his victim was based.

Mr Martin later removed this ban at the request of Mr Sharkie’s lawyers. He told RTÉ he did so on the basis of “strong legal advice”.

Ms McGrotty said he removed the ban without consulting her or her line manager and that his actions showed scant regard for victims’ rights. “It was perpetrator led and I, as a victim, was excluded entirely from the process.”

Mr Martin also later removed a contact management plan which required that Ms McGrotty be alerted whenever Mr Sharkie was in the same building as her.

He said he did so on the basis that “implementing such a plan would be very difficult and could potentially impact on Detective Constable Sharkie’s ability to effectively do his job”.

“I was also not convinced that such a plan was proportionate or necessary given the passage of time,” he said in a letter to Ms McGrotty at the time, as reported by The Times.

In a statement to RTÉ, Mr Martin said he regrets not meeting with Ms McGrotty on the occasions in question.

“At the time, I sought to consider Ms McGrotty’s needs and vulnerabilities in all my decision making.

“However, I have thought about my role in these events, many times over the last couple of weeks. An area of particular reflection for me is not meeting Ms McGrotty as part of the process.

“Whilst this was a correct PSNI process at that time, I would do it differently now and would meet her. I recognise her voice was important and that it wasn’t heard as part of the decision making and I regret that.”

On Sunday, Ms McEntee appeared to back Mr Martin’s position.

“The Minister notes the statement from Mr Martin this week, in particular his recognition that Sinead McGrotty’s voice was not heard as part of the decision making process on her case,” a spokesman said.

“The Minister firmly believes that the victim’s voice should always be heard and welcomes Mr Martin’s statement, following reflection, that he would approach the matter differently now and would meet Ms McGrotty.”

Ms McEntee’s spokesman said the minister was not aware of Ms McGrotty’s case until recently.