A commission of inquiry will be asked to examine all contact between broadcast media and gardaí regarding allegations about Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had confirmed she will launch a commission of investigation into allegations that Ms O'Sullivan and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan engaged in a campaign of harassment against Mr McCabe.
The terms of reference outlined in a report by retired judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill into the allegations is to determine the scope of the inquiry.
Mr O’Neill’s report was sent to the Tánaiste on December 7th and the details of the report were released on Wednesday.
According to the report, telephones used by whistleblower Supt David Taylor, former garda commissioner Martin Callinan and current Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan from July 2012 to May 2014 will be examined by the commission to assess if text messages were exchanged about the smear campaign against Mr McCabe.
The commission will also investigate a meeting between former commissioner Martin Callinan and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.
Mr McGuinness alleged he met Mr Callinan in a car park in Dublin ahead of a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Ms O’Sullivan’s knowledge of the meeting will also be investigated.
In his conclusions, Mr O’Neill said the claims made by Supt Dave Taylor and Sgt Maurice McCabe disclose serious allegations.
Mr Taylor alleges he was asked by senior management of An Garda Síochána to spread untruths about Mr McCabe to discredit him.
In the report, Mr O’Neill said it is “imperative in the public interest that an inquiry is established immediately to ascertain the truth or falsity of these allegations”.
Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton will be tasked with overseeing the commission.
He will examine all electronic and paper files that An Garda Síochána has about Mr McCabe.
There will also be inquiries into whether Ms O’Sullivan briefed RTÉ news about the contents of the O’Higgins commission on May 9th, 2016, in which Mr McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible.
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated his support for Ms O’Sullivan, as claims were made in the Dáil that she was directly involved in a smear campaign against Mr McCabe.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said, under privilege, that he was contacted by a journalist on Wednesday who told him “he had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014, in the course of which the Commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe”.
He called on the Garda Commissioner to stand aside for the duration of the inquiry and said it was not appropriate for her to remain in place as long as the formal commission of investigation was under way.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl intervened and warned Mr Howlin against making such serious allegations in the House.
Mr Howlin said: “I don’t know whether the charges against the Commissioner are true or not.”
Mr Ó Fearghaíl told him the charges he was making were “extremely, extremely dangerous and you are taking us into territory which we should not venture into”.
He said the Labour leader had “just related a ‘dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi’ (a woman told me that another woman told her) story referencing clearly the Garda Commissioner.
“I do not think such a statement is appropriate.”
The Taoiseach said the issue Mr Howlin raised was of the most serious import and that the Labour leader was aware of this.
He said the reason the commission was being established “is because Justice O’Neill, in his review, pointed out that the review could not have attempted to establish where the truth lies in respect of the very serious allegations made here”.
Mr Kenny said: “There has been no finding of any wrongdoing of any kind against her and, in those circumstances, she is entitled to our full support and that remains the position.”
The Taoiseach also said there was “an obligation, including a general Constitutional obligation, to protect the good names and reputations of persons who may be the subject of untested allegations”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, Ms O’Sullivan noted “with surprise the comments made by Deputy Brendan Howlin in Dáil Éireann on this date.
“The comments made under Dáil privilege relate to allegations of the most serious nature against the Commissioner and other members of An Garda Síochána.
“The Commissioner has no knowledge of the matters referred to by Deputy Howlin and refutes in the strongest terms the suggestion that she has engaged in the conduct alleged against a serving member of An Garda Síochána.
“This is the first occasion on which the Commissioner has been made aware of the allegations made by Deputy Howlin and to her knowledge no report [has] been made to the Garda Siochána Ombudsman or elsewhere relating to the specific allegations.
“The Commissioner notes that a commission of investigation has been established, the proposed terms of reference for which have been published today.
“In view of the seriousness of the allegations made by Deputy Howlin and that they refer to conduct of the most damaging nature against a serving member of An Garda Síochána, the Commissioner is obliged to take the unprecedented step of commenting publicly in circumstances where the terms of reference of the commission have now been published.
“As previously stated, the commission of investigation will receive the full co-operation of An Garda Síochána and will in due course establish the truth of the matters, together with all relevant facts.
“In the interim, the members of An Garda Síochána affected by the remarks published today will receive all necessary supports and assistance, having regard to the potential impact for the members concerned and their families.”
Garda matters have often become the affairs of Governments. The commissions of investigation into the handling of whistleblower allegations is the third statutory inquiry into various issues within the force.
Fennelly: Mr Justice Nial Fennelly's inquiry examined allegations telephone calls in and out of Garda stations were recorded.
It was asked to produce a module to investigate claims former commissioner Martin Callinan was sacked.
Mr Fennelly produced an interim report saying a visit from the former secretary general of the Department of Justice to Mr Callinan’s home was the immediate catalyst to his departure.
The visit was at the request of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
His final report is not yet completed. It was due to report by the end of the year.
O'Higgins: The O'Higgins commission was established on the back of a report by Mr Justice Seán Guerin.
Mr Guerin was asked to investigate allegations of malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan district raised by Sgt Maurice McCabe and the Department of Justice’s handling of them.
The report lead to the resignation in 2014 of then minister for justice Alan Shatter.
The O’Higgins commission vindicated Mr McCabe, insisting he acted out of legitimate concern.
However, it found some of the allegations were overstated.