Sparks fly as tribunal debate leads to claims of 'slurry pit of allegations'

 

WEXFORD LABOUR TD Brendan Howlin claimed he was the victim of character assassination by the Government during a heated debate on the Morris tribunal.

Mr Howlin was responding to comments made by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Niall Collins (Fianna Fáil, Limerick West) relating to himself and Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins, who had brought allegations of alleged Garda misconduct in Donegal to the attention of the then minister for justice, John O’Donoghue.

Mr Howlin said Mr Higgins and himself were no heroes. “It was our duty to do it . . . our duty, nothing less and nothing more.”

Earlier, Dermot Ahern said that given the widespread and deserved praise for its work, it was disappointing that there had been some criticism of the tribunal in the wake of the publication of its report.

“This criticism relates mainly to its findings relating to the refusal by former deputy Higgins and Deputy Brendan Howlin to disclose the sources of the accusations they brought to notice regarding two much-respected assistant commissioners – information that ultimately proved to be absolutely and completely untrue,” he added.

Despite the gravity of the allegations and their potentially ruinous effects, neither Mr Howlin nor Mr Higgins was willing to reveal sources, said Mr Ahern.

Mr Ahern said there was no reference, in information given to Mr O’Donoghue, to a fax received by Mr Higgins in July 2000, which partly contradicted the information previously supplied.

“The net effect was that the houses established a tribunal of inquiry that lasted six years at a cost to the taxpayer of some €50 million, which will probably increase, in the absence of this important information of direct relevance to the tribunal’s terms of reference,” Mr Ahern said.

Mr Howlin said Mr Ahern had issued a statement with a political spin on the day the tribunal report was published which was the creation of his department.

He said that the Minister’s speech to the Dáil debate was “spiteful, partisan, petty, unfair, selective, mean-spirited and self-serving”.

Niall Collins (FF, Limerick West) claimed the direct action of Mr Howlin and Mr Higgins gave rise to “the most grievous, unwarranted and untruthful allegations about the character of two of Ireland’s most senior police officers”.

He said it was “character assassination” at its worst. “The good name and good character of two of our finest gardaí was taken, abused and bandied around.”

Intervening in the debate, Mr Howlin said Mr Collins was making a most grievous allegation against him.

“He said that allegations by me and another deputy gave rise to egregious allegations,” said Mr Howlin.

“That is a scandalous lie that I demand it be withdrawn immediately or repeated outside the House and I will take action then.”

Mr Collins said: “That is withdrawn.” After some further exchanges, Mr Howlin said he would withdraw the word “lie” because it was an order of the House, but he asked Mr Collins to reflect on what he had said.

Mr Collins repeated that the allegation was withdrawn.

When he spoke later during the debate, a furious Mr Howlin referred to Mr Collins’s speech.

“My character was assassinated by one deputy this morning who was clearly given a script,” Mr Howlin said: “He withdrew it . . . The more I read it . . . an outrageous assault on my character . . . given to a poor new deputy. I wonder who scripted that.”

Labour’s spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte said that Mr Collins had read “a slurry pit of allegations” against two politicians into the record of the House.