O’Higgins report shows victims not well served by gardaí - Fitzgerald

Alan Shatter says Taoiseach has a duty to correct Dáil record

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD at Government Buidlings following the publication of the O’Higgins Commission Report. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD at Government Buidlings following the publication of the O’Higgins Commission Report. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said she has sympathy for her predecessor, Alan Shatter, and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, who both lost their positions over justice and policing controversies.

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking after bringing the O’Higgins report on allegations of Garda malpractice in the Cavan-Monaghan region to Cabinet and formally publishing it.

Ms Fitzgerald said she accepted the findings and the contents of the report were nuanced and balanced.

The commission, chaired by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, examined claims of Garda malpractice made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The report found Mr Shatter, Mr Callinan and the Department of Justice handled complaints made by whistleblower Maurice McCabe in a professional and appropriate manner “at all times”.

She said the report identified cases where victims of crime had not been well served by gardaí and said this unpalatable fact was as “unacceptable as it is disheartening and we must take all measures open to us to ensure that these shortcomings are not repeated”.

The report says whistleblower Sgt McCabe is a “dedicated and committed” member of the force.

‘Properly and truthfully’

The report showed Mr Shatter dealt with matters “properly and truthfully”, the former minister for justice responded on Wednesday afternoon.

“In short, the findings of the O’Higgins Report, like the earlier Cooke and Fennelly Reports, have unequivocally established that, when minister for justice, I dealt properly and truthfully with Garda-related matters that gave rise to substantial controversy in the spring of 2014 and many false allegations by opposition politicians, including Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader of the opposition.

“The conclusions of the O’Higgins Commission totally contradict and are incompatible with the adverse findings made against me in the Guerin Report. ”

Mr Shatter said Taoiseach Enda Kenny now must correct the Dáil record on the matter.

“If the Government, as it must, accepts the O’Higgins Commission findings in full, the Taoiseach now has a duty to correct the Dáil record.

“The Government also has a duty to ensure the now discredited adverse conclusions and opinions contained in the Guerin Report are acknowledged to be in error and corrected, and that the report is withdrawn from circulation in its present form.

“These are important issues of relevance to standards in public life, fair procedures and the importance of truth in politics.

“I will be writing to the Taoiseach on issues of relevance and importance following on from publication of the O’Higgins Report and seeking a substantive response.”

The worst cases highlighted in the report revolved around murderer Gerard McGrath, who was inappropriately charged with a minor assault and went on to kill while on bail for that offence and while awaiting trial for attempted abduction of a five-year-old child.

One of those most affected by the proven malpractice was Lorcan Roche Kelly, who received extracts of the report in the last fortnight but insisted he has no faith in the Garda force.

His wife Sylvia was murdered by McGrath in December 2007 while he was out on bail after being charged for assaulting taxi driver Mary Lynch and being caught red-handed trying to abduct a young girl from her family home in Tipperary.

In those cases, prosecuting gardaí did not give judges full information on McGrath’s past before he was given bail.

He killed Ms Roche Kelly 10 days after his second release.

‘Utmost sympathy’

Ms Fitzgerald said she had the “utmost sympathy and understanding” for those who have had a shadow over their names, as well as sympathy for the victims of the crimes examined in the report.

Mr McCabe had alleged that Mr Callinan was corrupt, but Ms Fitzgerald said: “Any question of corruption does not apply to him.”

She said Mr Kenny had her full confidence, and added there had been a string of justice and policing controversies leading up to the period in the spring of 2014, when Mr Callinan retired and Mr Shatter announced his resignation.

Mr Shatter earlier said Mr Kenny “encouraged” him to resign in the wake of the Guerin report, which was effectively a scoping inquiry that preceded the O’Higgins report.

“What is very clear from this report is that there were a whole series of events at that time. Let me remind you of what former minister Alan Shatter said at that time when he wrote to the Taoiseach,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“When he said, in view of the controversies at the time, I don’t want to paraphrase too much, but he did talk about the political situation at the time, the uncertainties, the controversies and the impact on the local and European elections.

“It was a very fraught time,” Ms Fitzgerald said, adding it is easy to make certain comments about that time in hindsight.

The report makes a number of recommendations for the force and the Government.

It identified serious flaws and failures in criminal investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan division in 2007 and 2008, but found no evidence of Garda criminality or corruption.

The commission recommends that victim impact statements should be “furnished in all courts”.

It found changes made to electronic records on the force’s Pulse IT system were “consistent with an attempt to excuse the failure to prosecute” people suspected of criminal offences.

Sgt McCabe had complained that Pulse records showed gardaí had “corruptly” failed to pursue prosecutions in cases where evidence was available.

The commission found in many cases the Pulse system had been subsequently updated to show that no offence took place.

It also found Pulse files later amended to claim that motorists had produced documents late were not backed up, as they should have been, by changes to another filing system, the Driving Licence Insurance Protection System.

The report is being sent to the Policing Authority and the Garda Commissioner.

Additional reporting: Press Association