Sunday 22 October 2017

Senior officer wanted gardai to be seen acting in 'clear and transparent' manner in whistleblower probe

Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn
Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn

Gerard Cunningham

The senior Garda officer in Donegal had told the Charleton tribunal she wanted Gardai to be seen to be acting in a "clear and transparent" manner in investigating allegations made against whistleblower Garda Keith Harrison.

Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, who a decade ago worked as an official liaison to the Morris tribunal looking at allegations against certain Donegal gardaí, said that following that inquiry, confidence in policing was very low in the county, and she was tasked with restoring trust in the force.

Chief Supt McGinn told the tribunal she was on maternity leave when Garda Harrison transferred to Donegal in 2011.

She said she first met Garda Harrison in Ballyshannon in the Autumn of 2011. The garda told her that he was having financial difficulties and asked if he could transfer from Donegal town to Letterkenny, nearer where he lived, to save money on his commute.

Chief Supt McGinn said this couldn't be done, but suggested that if he worked on his Irish language fluency, there was an allowance he could avail of.

The chief superintendent said this was the only time she ever met Garda Harrison personally.

In the current module, the tribunal is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison.

The witness said that in October 2013, she had "a confidence issue" about Garda Harrison's ability to carry out his functions as a garda. Reports from the sister and mother of Garda Harrison's partner Marisa Simms led to a statement being taken on Sunday 6 October 2013 from Ms Simms alleging domestic abuse.

Garda Keith Harrison’s partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal. Photo: Photocall
Garda Keith Harrison’s partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal. Photo: Photocall

Chief Supt McGinn said that she appointed Inspector Goretti Sheridan to look into the reports at the end of September 2013, following a report that Ms Simms had left the family home with her children late at night.

"I think its most unusual that a woman would be thrown out of her house in the middle of the night and had to get someone to take her," the senior garda said.

"It would signal to me that things weren't well in that house."

The Chief Superintendent said that she was not on duty over the weekend on which Ms Simms made a statement to Inspector Sheridan, having gone off duty Friday evening, and did not learn about it until she came back on duty on Monday 7 October.

She said she had never conveyed to Inspector Sheridan that she had to get a statement, and she had never said that "No Garda in this division is going to treat a woman that way."

On 8 October, a garda conference was held to consider what to do as a result of the statement.

As a result, a referral was made to GSOC, and because children were alleged to have witnessed an incident, Tusla was also notified.

The referral to GSOC was made under Section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act, which must take place when there is an allegation that a garda caused serious harm or death.

The Chief Superintendent said this might not have been appropriate, and a referral under Section 85 might have been more suitable, but she said that gardaí were obliged to refer Ms Simms statement to GSOC either way.

The witness said that because Martin McDermott, a brother of Ms Simms, had been charged with manslaughter following the death of a garda, she wanted to ensure the appearance of independence, and this was another reason to want GSOC to carry out any investigation.

"They are purposely set up for that purpose, to investigate complaints against members," Chief Supt McGinn said.

Read More: 'I don't want to be here,' Marisa Simms says as evidence of first marriage, ectopic pregnancy, and infidelities heard

The chief superintendent said it was not the case that she wanted to "surreptitiously" refer Garda Harrison to GSOC.

After GSOC closed their file on Garda Harrison, having decided that it was not a Section 102 case, and Ms Simms said she did not wish to make a Section 85 complaint, the chief Superintendent asked Northern Region assistant commissioner Kieran Kenny if he could appoint a superintendent from outside the Donegal division to investigate the allegations in Ms Simms statement.

Chief Supt McGinn said that following the Morris tribunal , there was a lack of confidence in policing in Donegal, and she didn't want the division to investigate one of it's own people, so she sought "an independent investigation, to be clear and transparent."

In correspondence at the time to the Human Resources section in Garda HQ, Chief Supt McGinn said she had "severe reservations as to Garda Harrison's continued employment", and was considering suspension pending completion of the investigation.

In response, the Human Resources department advised that Garda Harrison should be confined to indoor duties.

Chief superintendent McGinn said she accepted this decision by Garda HQ.

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