Review of allegations policy is key - tribunal

 

MORRIS TRIBUNAL:THE OIREACHTAS Committee of Practice and Procedure should urgently review the manner in which members of both Houses deal with allegations brought to their attention by whistleblowers, according to the Morris tribunal.

This is one of the final recommendations in the tribunal's eighth report, dealing with allegations contained in documents received by TDs Jim Higgins and Brendan Howlin that two senior members of An Garda Síochána had acted improperly.

The tribunal was critical of the deputies for not examining more closely the allegations contained in the documents, though it acknowledged that they had acted in good faith.

It was also critical of Frank McBrearty's senior counsel Martin Giblin, who, it said, displayed a "serious error of judgment" in the manner in which he dealt with allegations against the two senior gardaí and conveyed them to Mr Howlin.

The allegations were contained in a faxed document sent to Mr Higgins and Mr Giblin on June 25th, 2000. This followed the withdrawing by the Director of Public Prosecutions of 69 summonses against Frank McBrearty snr for breaches of the licensing laws.

Earlier, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, who had been appointed to inquire into a number of allegations against certain members of the force in Donegal, had submitted to the DPP an interim report into the summonses, as a result of which they were withdrawn. This meant that the conduct of the gardaí involved would not be examined in court.

The letter faxed to Mr Higgins and Mr Giblin alleged that one of the Garda officers under investigation, Det Sgt John White, had been involved with Mr Carty and another senior officer, Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey, in framing people through the planting of evidence in Dublin, and so was in a position to blackmail Mr Carty.

The tribunal found that this allegation, which was untrue, was intended to undermine the Carty inquiry and promote calls made by Mr McBrearty for a public inquiry into the conduct of gardaí in Donegal, particularly into their behaviour towards him and his family.

It also found that the document had been created by Frank McBrearty and a friend and part-time employee, retired Donegal Garda PJ Togher.

Mr Giblin contacted Mr Howlin with the allegations. Mr Howlin and Mr Higgins brought the contents of the document to the attention of then minister for justice John O'Donoghue, urging him to establish a public inquiry. They did not inform him of the source of the allegations.

The tribunal commented that there was no reason not to tell the minister of the sources of the documents. Mr Higgins said his information came from "a reliable Garda source", who was Mr Togher, and Mr Howlin said his was a reliable non-Garda source, that is, Mr Giblin.

"The tribunal does not see why Mr McBrearty senior and Mr Martin Giblin SC needed a cloak of secrecy in their dealings with the two politicians, as they had already been engaged with An Garda Síochána in respect of a multiple of contentious issues," the report states.

The allegations "were given a standing and authority well beyond what was justified on the material available", it said.

A second letter was sent to Mr Giblin and Mr Higgins, this time claiming that Det Sgt White had been arrested and questioned in 1984 in relation to alleged wrongdoing, but had been reinstated over the head of Mr Carty. This document, according to the tribunal, undermined the first one and the credibility of its authors, Mr McBrearty and Mr Togher.

This second document was not treated with the same attention by Mr Giblin and Mr Higgins as the first, and was not revealed to the tribunal until January 2003.

"The tribunal is satisfied that Deputy Higgins, an astute politician, and Mr Giblin, an accomplished lawyer, must have realised the contradiction at the heart of this document and the potential damage this could do to the call for a public inquiry if the source of the information in the first facsimile was thought to be unreliable and contradictory," the report states.

It also states: "The tribunal is satisfied that both deputies should have returned to their sources of information and pressed them for further information or evidence backing up the very serious allegations made against the two assistant commissioners and Detective Sergeant White."

It notes that TDs are left without guidance on how to deal with such allegations and urges the Oireachtas to ensure there is a balance between the right of a whistleblower to bring a matter to the attention of his public representative, and the right of a person against whom allegations are made to be fairly treated.