Committee members divided over Ross statement and whistleblower testimony

Diverging opinions about the suitability of hearing whistleblower evidence in public

Independent TD Shane Ross has also been strongly criticised for divulging the proceedings of a committee meeting held in private last week

Independent TD Shane Ross has also been strongly criticised for divulging the proceedings of a committee meeting held in private last week

 

Division has emerged within the Public Accounts Committee over how it is conducting its affairs, including whether or not it is entitled to hear evidence from a Garda whistleblower over the penalty points controversy.

Some members have queried whether the committee is the appropriate forum to hear allegations from the whistleblower, with the majority favouring a private hearing at least.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said yesterday that the whistleblower scheduled to give evidence this Thursday should do so in private.

Independent TD Shane Ross has also been strongly criticised for divulging the proceedings of a committee meeting held in private last week, when he sought to have Rehab brought before the committee immediately.

‘Overstepping the mark’
Dublin South East TD Eoghan Murphy accused Mr Ross of “way overstepping the mark” with his comments, and said they “call into question” how the committee could legitimately go about its business.

“How can we say anything in private session?” he asked, adding that Mr Ross had breached the committee’s confidence.

Mr Ross, a TD for Dublin South, also suggested Fine Gael members of the committee might give Rehab director Frank Flannery an easy ride because of his role as a Fine Gael strategist. He suggested they “declare an interest” if Mr Flannery appears before them.

Mr Murphy said he was unaware of the connections between Mr Flannery and Rehab prior to the latest controversy. He also accused Mr Ross of having a “conflict of interest” between his position as a committee member and as a journalist.

Labour TD Derek Nolan said Mr Ross had torn up the “PAC tradition of leaving party politics at the door”.

His party colleague Gerald Nash described it as “deeply troubling, inappropriate and disrespectful”. Mr Nash said there was “no hint of separation” between Mr Ross’s positions as a TD and columnist.

Mr Ross denied he had breached the confidence of the private meeting, and said he was only reflecting its outcome.


Whistleblower protection
Meanwhile, a former member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has called for greater protection for whistleblowers in the force.

Conor Brady said that the continuing controversy on quashed penalty points shows “very serious flaws” within the Garda’s system to supervise and govern its members.

“Whistleblowing legislation is flawed because the first thing the Confidential Recipient has to do is go to the Garda Commissioner and say I have a complaint from a named garda,” he said on RTÉ radio.

“There is no confidentiality or protection of the individual.”

Mr Brady also noted that one of the whistleblowers making the allegations, Sgt Maurice McCabe, should be taken “very seriously”. Mr Brady said he believed Mr McCabe to be a “fine officer” and a “man of integrity”.

He also criticised a lack of “political will” to enforce supervisory structures according to the manner in which they were conceived. “We were told at the time that the Garda Ombudsman would have broadly the same power as the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland,” he said. “But the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland has authority over the Chief Constable.

“The other flaw that I see in the 2005 Act...is that the Garda Commissioner is beyond its remit,” he said, adding that the Garda Ombudsman currently has no authority over the commissioner.

Indirect access to the PULSE database was another oversight issue which the former GSOC member highlighted.

Mr Brady said GSOC staff must rely on seconded superintendents from the Garda to access information related to complaints made against members of the force, even though that data is easily accessible on the PULSE system.