Tuesday 17 October 2017

Garda chief: 'I'm not in the business of messing with lives of whistleblowers'

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arrives at Leinster House for the Oireachtas Joint
Committee on Justice and Equality meeting
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arrives at Leinster House for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality meeting
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has denied "messing" with the lives of whistleblowers as she came under intense questioning by TDs.

Ms O'Sullivan made the remarks at the Oireachtas Justice Committee, where she was grilled about the latest controversy to hit the force.

Independent TD Mick Wallace. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Mick Wallace. Photo: Tom Burke

Independent TD Mick Wallace said he was told by a whistleblower that the Garda Commissioner "messed with our lives and messed with our families".

Ms O'Sullivan replied: "I am not in the business... of messing in anyone's lives or families."

Her appearance at the committee came after a claim by Superintendent David Taylor in a protected disclosure that garda management sought to discredit the character of whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Retired High Court Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill has been asked to examine the latest protected disclosures, which were made to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Ms O'Sullivan repeatedly reiterated her position on the matter yesterday, saying she was "not privy to, did not approve or condone any campaign against any individual".

In response to questioning from Sinn Féin's Jonathan O'Brien, she said she was "absolutely not" aware of whether whistleblowers had been under garda surveillance.

"I believe there are no intelligence files," she said in response to reports that files had been compiled on whistleblowers.

Mr O'Brien asked if she will temporarily step aside while the inquiry into the latest protected discloses takes place, but Ms O'Sullivan indicated that she won't.

She told him her job is to lead An Garda Síochána through a period of change and in their role of protecting the community.

She insisted gardaí will offer "every assistance" to Mr Justice O'Neill in his review of the case.

Ms O'Sullivan said protected disclosure cases within the force are in "single figures" and there is an ongoing process of reform taking place.

She said it may be time to consider establishing an "independent entity" where whistleblowing issues can be dealt with. Such an agency could give people "reassurance that there is somebody independently looking at these matters".

Mr Wallace asked if Ms O'Sullivan had ever disassociated herself from her predecessor Martin Callinan's remarks at the Public Accounts Committee that the actions of two whistleblowers were "disgusting".

She said Mr Callinan's choice of words were "unfortunate" and she had written to him asking him to withdraw them as she didn't believe "they were said in the way that they came across."

Mr Wallace claimed the culture of An Garda Síochána has "deteriorated" since Ms O'Sullivan took over as Commissioner.

He accused her of promoting officers who have been the subject of complaints. He also claimed that she promoted her husband and her bridesmaid arguing: "You've surrounded yourself with your supporters, rather than concentrating on promoting quality."

Ms O'Sullivan said there are "lots of factual inaccuracies in the public domain". She said it "certainly isn't the case" that she promoted her bridesmaid, adding that she didn't have one.

Her husband Jim McGowan was promoted to chief superintendent. Ms O'Sullivan said that it would be "inappropriate" for someone to be defined in their job by "the person that they just happen to be associated with".

She said she isn't personally responsible for individual promotions and insisted the process is independent and impartial.

She said: "People are picked on the basis of their proven ability."

Mr Wallace claimed that Ms O'Sullivan sought to paint a "rosey" picture of the situation in the force.

She responded that change in any organisation is "not easy" and added: "It's not all pretty in the garden, yet nor did we suggest it was."

Chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD asked Ms O'Sullivan to pose for a picture with members for the committee's report.

Mr Wallace quipped: "It'll be one for the mantelpiece," with Mr Ó Caoláin replying: "There'll be one for you."

Irish Independent

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