Tánaiste to bring revised terms to Cabinet for investigation commission
No reason for Garda Commissioner to step aside during inquiry, says Fitzgerald
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald: agreed to Opposition amendments after two-hour debate. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is to bring revised terms of reference for the new commission of investigation to Cabinet next week after she accepted amendments from the Opposition.
She agreed to the amendments after a two-hour debate on the commission investigating allegations that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan engaged in an attempt to smear the reputation of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Opening the debate she reiterated comments made during leaders’ questions that there is no reason for the Garda Commissioner to step aside pending the investigation’s outcome.
Ms Fitzgerald said there was a series of allegations “which have not yet been tested which are wholly denied by the people against whom they are made”.
The Tánaiste added: “I don’t believe there is a reason for anyone to step aside in that context.” She pointed out that Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill in his report on the controversy had not recommended that the commissioner step aside.
But she said that if any of the allegations proved true, there would be the most serious consequences.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said there had been a “comprehensive campaign of character assassination, a calculated campaign to destroy the standing of a serving member of An Garda Síochána, a cynical campaign which sought out allies in the compliant sections of the mainstream media and politicians”.
Fine Gael backbencher Michael D’Arcy broke ranks and was the first Government TD to call for the commissioner to step aside. He said he did not believe Ms O’Sullivan “because of her actions”.
He also said he had been told that up to 10 journalists had been briefed with negative stories about Sgt McCabe.
AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger accused the media of being a “propaganda arm of the Garda”. She said there were crime journalists “virtually embedded in An Garda Síochána” and named Paul Reynolds and Paul Williams.
Independents4Change TD Clare Daly referred to the RTÉ news report last year, included in the commission’s terms of reference, which leaked information from the O’Higgins report before it was published.
Ms Daly said she made a complaint about the broadcast and RTÉ wrote back and “gave out about the personal nature of my complaints and their hostile tone”, and claimed they were without foundation.
During the debate, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness asked other agencies of the State or Government departments would be included in the commission’s work and he cited Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
The Minister said it could be included if it was relevant and she accepted an amendment from Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan to look at whether there were contacts between gardaí and any member of Government about the claims against Sgt McCabe.
She also accepted Mr O’Callaghan’s amendment to deal with whether the commissioner and her predecessor, Martin Callinan, knew about allegations made against Sgt McCabe and whether they had used these to discredit him.
But she warned the Dáil that expanding the terms of reference too much would result in the commission taking longer than the agreed nine months.