McCabe tribunal terms of reference agreed too quickly – Shortall

Terms open up possibility of long running, expensive, unsatisfactory tribunal, says TD

‘The model needs to be changed,’   Róisín Shortall said.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

‘The model needs to be changed,’ Róisín Shortall said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall says that the Government moved with unseemly haste to finalise the terms of reference for a tribunal into the Garda whistleblower controversy.

The tribunal will report on issues concerning allegations from Sgt Maurice McCabe within nine months, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on Thursday.

Under the terms of reference, the tribunal will cover allegations from former Garda press officer David Taylor that he was directed by former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and/or current commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to negatively brief the media about Sgt Maurice McCabe.

It will investigate, what knowledge Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan had concerning an allegation of criminal misconduct against Mr McCabe and whether they acted upon this to discredit the sergeant.

It will also investigate the creation, distribution and use by Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) of a file containing false allegations of sexual abuse against Sgt McCabe and whether the file was used by senior gardaí to discredit him.

‘Long running, expensive tribunal’

Mr Kenny said Mr Justice Peter Charleton has agreed to conduct the review, but added he was not certain how long it would take to investigate other aspects of the whistleblower issue.

Ms Shortall said the terms as published opened up the possibility of a long running and expensive tribunal that would not get to the root of Sgt McCabe’s and the public’s concerns.

“The terms are fairly wide, but there is no guarantee that they’re going to get the answers in a reliable amount of time.

“The model needs to be changed,” the Dublin North-West TD said.

Resolution to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry

Ms Shortall said the Government should have taken a further look at legislation proposed in 2005 which limited the time and expense of tribunals.

She said there was provision under Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) to carry out a public interest investigation.

There is a need for answers to some serious questions, she said, but added that there is now a fear of an open-ended mechanism and it could be years before there are answers.

Ms Shortall also said that Ms O’Sullivan should step aside saying it would be unfair to expect her to make decisions over discipline in the gardaí while the inquiry is ongoing.

The commissioner has denied any knowledge of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe and has insisted she will not stand aside.

‘Justice for the McCabes’

On Thursday,Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said that any alleged wrongdoing by gardaí would be addressed fully and fairly by the whistleblower tribunal.

She told the Dáil she believed TDs across the House wanted to see that. “I believe the terms of reference I am putting forward today will enable the judge to do just that,’’ she added.

Ms Fitzgerald said the tribunal would ensure justice for Sgt McCabe and his family and all parties involved. “That is what is important,’’ she said.

Terms of reference

Under the terms of reference, the tribunal will also investigate whether the false accusations of sexual abuse were inappropriately relied upon by Ms O’Sullivan to discredit Mr McCabe at the Commission of Investigation chaired by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins.

The tribunal will look at whether senior gardaí attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Mr McCabe of criminal misconduct and it will also look at contacts between An Garda Síochána and the media, members of the Government, Tusla, the HSE and other State entities.

It will examine all records relating to the telecommunications interactions used by Mr Taylor, Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan, between July 1st, 2012, and May 31st, 2014. In addition, it will examine all electronic and paper files, relating to Mr McCabe, held by An Garda Síochána.

The tribunal will investigate whether Ms O’Sullivan attempted to influence broadcasts on RTÉ by leaking unpublished O’Higgins Commission material. It will also investigate whether a meeting took place between Mr Callinan and Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness on January 24th, 2014 in the carpark of Bewley’s Hotel, Newland’s Cross, Co Dublin, and if it did, why.

It will investigate contacts between gardaí and Tusla concerning garda Keith Harrison and will investigate any pattern of the creation, distribution and use by Tusla of files containing allegation of criminal misconduct against Garda whistleblowers.

The tribunal will consider any other complaints by a member of the Garda who feels they were targeted, with the knowledge of senior gardaí, after making a protected disclosure.

The tribunal will report to the Minister for Justice on an interim basis no later than three months from its establishment.