Sunday 4 December 2016

Fitzgerald refuses to widen scope of the inquiry into garda whistleblowers

Published 10/10/2016 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will not broaden the remit of the latest inquiry into the treatment of garda whistleblowers, despite accusations that it excludes relevant cases.

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The Tánaiste has rejected calls from lawyers for whistleblower Keith Harrison to have his situation reviewed by Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill, who was last week tasked with probing an alleged smear against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Mr Harrison's solicitors have written to Ms Fitzgerald, stating that their client was "astonished" at his omission from the six-week investigation announced last Friday.

However, in a statement to the Irish Independent a spokesperson for the minister indicated that the Department of Justice sees Mr Harrison's case as separate from the issues raised by Sgt McCabe and former Garda press officer Dave Taylor, who have made the most recent protected disclosures.

Mr Harrison has alleged that he suffered harassment from senior colleagues and effectively had his career ruined after arresting a detective garda for suspected drink driving.

A letter, sent by Kilfeather and Company to Ms Fitzgerald, said that the "review in its current form is limited to historical events and clearly fails to address our client's concerns".

They said the garda's family, had been subjected to "covert surveillance, victimisation, bullying and harassment".

The minister's spokesperson said Mr Justice O'Neill was appointed "to specifically address" protected disclosures received by the Tánaiste last Monday.

"The strict provisions of [the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014] mean that it is not possible for the recipient of the disclosures to disclose anything which might identify the persons making them. Accordingly, it is not possible to comment on the nature of the disclosures or their relevance or otherwise to other matters," the spokesperson said.

It comes as another Cabinet minister said it is "very important" that Mr Justice O'Neill has full access to all the evidence needed for his review.

It is claimed that three phones linked to Mr Taylor, which are in garda custody as part of a separate investigation, contain a chain of text messages outlining a plot to target Sgt McCabe by spreading rumours.

The review set up by Ms Fitzgerald is non-statutory, although the judge can recommend further action be taken to address the allegations.

Asked whether Mr Justice O'Neill would be able to access the phones as part of his initial inquiry, Minister of State Finian McGrath said he will raise the issue at Cabinet level.

"I would hope so. I would accept that's a very important part of the case and I hope that would be the case," he said on RTÉ's 'The Week In Politics'.

A garda spokesperson was unable to specifically address the issue but pointed to a statement issued on behalf of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan last Friday. It said An Garda Síochána will "co-operate fully with this review process", adding: "An Garda Síochána re-iterates its support for employees who make protected disclosures and that anyone who brings forward any concerns or issues will be taken seriously and the matters (raised will be) examined."

Irish Independent

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