Scope of Garda whistleblower inquiry may be widened
Taoiseach: ‘You cannot have a country if everyone against whom allegations are made has to step aside’
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan with Supt David Taylor and Supt Pat McCabe at Templemore. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
The Government is likely to accept amendments to the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation into the alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, raising the prospect that the scope of the inquiry could be widened.
However, The Irish Times understands that a Dáil vote on the terms of reference is now unlikely to take place today, with sources suggesting that the process could extend into next week.
The Dáil will hear three hours of statements on the matter this afternoon, beginning at 1pm.
The Government decided on Tuesday to establishment a commission under Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton to investigate the claims that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and senior gardaí conducted a campaign to blacken the name of Sergeant McCabe in order to discredit his evidence of Garda malpractice.
Ms O’Sullivan has vehemently denied the claims but following an initial inquiry by retired Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill, the Government decided to proceed with the inquiry.
On Wednesday, draft terms of reference, supplied by Mr Justice O’Neill with his report, were published. They were focused on the alleged campaign conducted by Ms O’Sullivan and her predecessor Martin Callinan to brief journalists in highly negative terms about Sergeant McCabe.
The terms of reference also focussed on an RTÉ news broadcast in May of last year, based on a leak of the O’Higgins Commission into Garda malpractice, which portrayed Sergeant McCabe as a liar, and was favourable to the former Commissioner, Mr Callinan.
It is expected that Independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace will submit amendments broadening the scope of the Commission. Fianna Fáil are also likely to suggest amendments.
Because the Government does not command a majority on the floor of the Dáil, it will need to support or agreement of Fianna Fáil to pass the motion setting up the Commission and approving its terms of reference.
Meanwhile Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated “full confidence” in Ms O’Sullivan. “I have full confidence in the garda commissioner. There is no prima facie evidence of wrongdoing of any kind. For that reason she is fully entitled to the support of the government,” he said in Warsaw.
“You cannot have a country if everyone against whom allegations are made has to step aside,” he said.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil there is no reason for the Garda Commissioner to step aside while the commission of investigation carries out its inquiry.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who repeated her party’s call for Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to step aside during the inquiry. Ms Fitzgerald told her there was a “general constitutional obligation to protect the good names and reputation of people who may be the subject of untested allegations”.
Ms Fitzgerald told the Dáil 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 said that if everybody against whom allegations are made was expected to step aside “we would have an extraordinary situation. People are entitled to fair procedures, to justice and to the proper way of doing things.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin’s use of Dáil privilege to link the Garda Commissioner to a smear campaign against whistleblowers in the force was disappointing and unfair, two Fianna Fáil TDs have said.
John McGuinness, who previously claimed Ms O’Sullivan’s predecessor Martin Callinan warned him Sgt McCabe was not to be trusted, said Mr Howlin had made “wild allegations” which were not helpful or fair to anyone.
“I am extremely disappointed he put that information into the public domain - leaving it there as if Maurice McCabe was guilty of these unfounded allegations. He should not have said all he did,” he told RTÉ’s Today programme.
Mr Howlin said in the Dáil on Wednesday he had spoken to a journalist who had “direct knowledge” that Ms O’Sullivan had made “very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Sgt McCabe” to journalists. Mr Howlin later clarified the journalist had not been spoken to directly by Ms O’Sullivan.
Ms O’Sullivan, who has always denied the accusations, faces an examination of her mobile phones and phone records over a period of two years as part of the inquiry.
The commission, which has legal powers to compel witnesses to attend and to order the discovery of documents, was set up by the Government following an initial inquiry by retired judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill into allegations by another Garda whistleblower, Supt David Taylor, who said he had been told to brief against Sgt McCabe to the media.
Garda headquarters said the commissioner noted Mr Howlin’s comments with surprise. “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.”
Sgt McCabe told The Irish Times he had contacted an assistant commissioner calling for Ms O’Sullivan to make a public statement on the claims reported by Mr Howlin. He said they were of the most serious concern. She released her statement two hours later.
Mr Howlin on Thursday defended his decision to make the comments in the Dáil.
“It was a judgment call. It is always safer to be silent and do nothing,” he said, adding that he takes Dáil privilege very seriously.
“The person who contacted me said they had first hand knowledge and I believe them. . . I wouldn’t have used it if I didn’t believe it.”
The Wexford TD said he did not speak to Sgt McCabe before he made his comments in the Dáil as it would have “put him in an invidious position”.
“The truth is that Sgt McCabe wants the full truth to come out as his life has been hell as has his family’s. He’s a seeker of truth . . . he wants a complete investigation to get to the full truth. . . If someone was spreading malicious untruths about him, that should be revealed,” Mr Howlin told Newstalk.
Jim O’Callaghan, a barrister and Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, said that Mr Howlin’s allegations had been unfair to both Ms O’Sullivan and Sgt McCabe. He said his party wanted to see the truth established. “There will be consequences, but first let’s establish the truth.”