Gardaí to investigate Sargent letters, O'Dea perjury claim


Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy announced today a chief superintendent has been appointed to head two separate inquiries into the leak of contacts between Trevor Sargent and a garda and allegations made against the former minister for justice Willie O’Dea.

Mr Murphy said one will investigate the circumstances surrounding “the recent public disclosure correspondence addressed to an Garda Síochána at Balbriggan Garda station”.

This inquiry relates to the resignation of former Green Party leader Mr Sargent who stepped down from his position as minister of state with responsibility for food yesterday after admitting to unlawfully contacting a garda about a case involving a constituent.

Mr Sargent said that while his actions did not constitute a criminal offence, his communication could be deemed not lawful.

He said a victim of an assault had come to him in 2008 to voice his frustration at the slow progress of a case. The constituent alleged he had been head-butted when he reported vandalism to parents of a child he had seen trying to remove a road sign in their housing estate.

In his letter to the garda investigating the case in 2008, the TD expressed his shock that the constituent, Dominic McGowan, was being charged with an offence rather than being called as a witness in the case and he added: “It is, I believe, wholly inappropriate to proceed with this summons at this point.”

Mr McGowan was later convicted of threatening and abusive behaviour and fined €500. His assailant was sentenced to four months for the assault but is appealing.

A second letter written by Mr Sargent to a Garda superintendent as late as February 15th in connection with the case, it emerged today. In the letter, Mr Sargent referred to “previous correspondence” and asked if Superintendent Joe Kelly at Balbriggan Garda station “could keep an eye” on the case.

In a statement released today, the Garda Commissioner said he is “mindful” that some of the matters being examined arose in the context of proceedings are still before the court. As such he said he would not be making any further statement on the issue at this time.

A spokesman for the Garda Ombudsman’s Commission later confirmed the body had received a complaint relating to the matter. The commission is “considering the issues raised in that complaint to ascertain its admissibility and the appropriate form of investigation," he said. “The complaint does not relate directly to the issue of possible misuse of confidential information by gardaí."

He said the ombudsman will “take into account the findings of the Garda report in arriving at its own decision in due course.”

Separately, Mr Murphy also said he will investigate a complaint made by a member of the public at the Bridewell Garda station on February 18th and “other related matters arising from a separate case in Limerick.”

This relates to Willie O’Dea's resignation as minister for defence last week and a complaint by Green Party activist Gary Fitzgerald to gardaí suggesting possible perjury on the part of Mr O’Dea, who swore a version of a conversation in an affidavit that later proved to be wrong. There are also allegations that a garda leaked confidential information to Mr O’Dea about a criminal investigation.

Chief Superintendent Michael Finn of the Cork division has been appointed to carry out both inquiries.

Mr Murphy said any matter arising from the inquiries requiring consideration will be sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A copy of the final report is also expected to be forwarded to the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Mr O’Dea resigned last Thursday amid controversy over an affidavit submitted to the High Court in April last year in which he “categorically and emphatically” denied claiming in an interview with a Limerick journalist that Sinn Féin councillor Maurice Quinlivan had a connection with a brothel.

In December, Mr O’Dea withdrew his denial of having made the statement about Mr Quinlivan and agreed to pay the Sinn Féin councillor damages plus his legal costs.

He resigned a day after Fianna Fáil and Green Party TDs had voted confidence in him. However that night Green Party chairman Senator Dan Boyle publicly expressed his own lack of confidence in Mr O’Dea despite the Dáil vote and triggered a sequence of events that triggered the resignation.

On the Thursday afternoon Mr O’Dea gave an interview to Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio. While insisting that he had not committed perjury, he admitted to making a serious mistake and apologised profusely for what he had done.

At one stage in the interview, Mr O’Dea was asked whether he would resign, and while he said he did not intend to do so, he added that “my position is always in the hands of the Taoiseach to do with as he will”. Mr Cowen accepted his letter of resignation later that night.