Sargent resigns ministry over 'error of judgment'

 

Green Party junior minister Trevor Sargent has resigned following revelations of his representations to gardaí on behalf of a constituent facing prosecution on a public order charge.

In a brief statement to the House this evening, Mr Sargent said he accepted that "although my actions in contacting An Garda Síochána were not a criminal offence, under Section 6 of the Prosecutions of Offences Act 1974 such a communication could be deemed not lawful.

"In this regard I accept I made an error of judgement. Accordingly I hereby tender my resignation forthwith as Minister of State for Food and Horticulture."

Surrounded by his party colleagues, Mr Sargent briefly outlined the circumstances of his intervention.

"The victim of an assault came to me to voice his frustration at the slow progress being made with the case where he alleged he had been headbutted when he told me he had reported vandalism to parents of a child trying to remove a road sign in their housing estate," he said.

"My intention was to ensure the gardaí were aware I had received representations from a victim in an alleged assault and that the full preparation of the case would benefit from witnesses not yet interviewed, being interviewed before proceeding further. The victim was meanwhile afraid for his own personal safety and showed the evidence of the assault on his face."

Once he completed his statement, Mr Sargent and most of his party colleagues left the chamber.

Speaking outside Leinster House tonight, Mr Sargent said his only motivation had been to help an individual, and he now realised he had “over-stepped the line”.

However, he said: “I think we should not be sending out a message if you are afraid of intimidation you should therefore ignore law breaking. That’s the wrong message to send to people."

Paying tribute to his colleague, Green Party leader John Gormley said he had behaved in the most honourable and decent way. “He is a credit to the Green Party, a credit to politics and he gives politics a good name.”

On RTÉ’s Six One News the former minister was unable to explain why a letter he had written in June 2008 had emerged now.

“Well, I really can’t answer that. I may wonder myself I suppose, but it can only be conjecture. The offence is a long time back now, and the letter has come out . . . presumably somebody got hold of it, I don’t know how they got hold of it, but it was written to gardaí, and after that maybe someone else saw it. I don’t know.”

He said the reason he had written the letter was not to pull rank or to intimidate the gardaí in question. “I was trying to keep it as low key as possible . . . but it wasn’t that I was trying to hide anything” Mr Sargent said, adding that was why he had written the letter.

Mr Sargent also expanded on why he had got involved in the case. He had been approached by a constituent who had been assaulted and asked for assistance to ensure that all witnesses to the assault were interviewed.

Mr Sargent said the assault occurred when an individual going home from work saw a number of “youngsters” trying to remove a road sign.

Out of “civic mindedness" this individual spoke to the parents of one of the children involved and had been “headbutted and hospitalised”. Mr Sargent said he wanted to help this individual to counter anti-social behaviour.

“I accept now that I shouldn’t have written to the gardaí, but my motivation in doing so was simply to ensure the case wouldn’t overlook key witnesses that this man told me had not been interviewed.”

Mr Sargent said he had looked at the legislation and what he had done was "not a criminal offence but it could be deemed unlawful. And I didn’t want to have any question over my motives or my actions and I accept that I did the wrong thing.

“In that regard, as a minister of state, I cannot continue to serve as a minister of state having done what I did, as it was an error of judgement.”

Mr Sargent said he did not believe the matter would affect the stability of the Government.

“I am taking action on the basis that I uphold standards in office. I have given out about others in terms of low standards. When it comes to my door I accept fully I shouldn’t have done what I did in terms of writing to the gardaí.”

Mr Sargent said he hoped the Government “can continue and can uphold high standards and can continue to ensure we have a recovery in the economy”.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has requested an urgent report regarding Mr Sargent's correspondence with gardaí from the head of Garda division that investigated the case.