Garda held over leaked letters that forced out Sargent
Published 19/03/2010 | 05:00
A FEMALE garda was being questioned last night in connection with the leaking of correspondence that led to the resignation of junior minister Trevor Sargent.
The Green TD quit as Minister of State for Food and Horticulture last month within hours of the 'Evening Herald' publishing details of letters in which he tried to influence gardai to drop the prosecution of one of his constituents.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy ordered an investigation into how the letters had got into the public domain.
The launch of the inquiry followed claims that the leaking of the letters had been politically motivated.
Yesterday, a female garda in her early 30s was arrested after presenting herself by appointment at Lucan garda station shortly after 10am.
She was detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and can be held for up to 24 hours without charge.
Last night, Mr Sargent declined to comment on the arrest. However, he said he had been co-operating with the garda investigation.
"I have no knowledge of how the investigation is progressing, apart from the fact that I have co-operated with it," he said. "I have made statements to the investigation as, I imagine, has everyone involved."
The arrested garda was previously stationed at Balbriggan but recently moved to Garda Command and Control at Harcourt Square in Dublin.
Gardai said she was being questioned about "the public disclosure of correspondence addressed to An Garda Siochana at Balbriggan Garda Station".
Under the Garda Siochana Act, an officer who discloses confidential information can face a €50,000 fine or up to five years in jail.
Mr Murphy appointed two senior officers, Chief Supt Michael Finn and Det Supt John McMahon, to investigate the matter. Det Supt McMahon wrote to the 'Evening Herald', seeking the newspaper's assistance with the investigation.
However, the newspaper has said that as the story was in the public interest, it would not co-operate. Mr Sargent resigned after it was disclosed that he had written the letters on behalf of constituent Dominic McGowan, who was attacked near his home in Balbriggan.
Mr McGowan was later convicted of threatening and abusive behaviour arising from the same incident.
Prior to the court case, Mr Sargent had written -- on department-headed notepaper -- to the prosecuting garda, saying he believed it was "wholly inappropriate" for a summons to be proceeded with as witnesses for Mr McGowan had yet to be interviewed.
The then junior minister also wrote to a garda superintendent about the investigation.
After Mr Sargent's resignation, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern denied any involvement in the leaking of the letters.
This followed speculation that Fianna Fail had sought revenge on the Green Party after it had forced the resignation of defence minister Willie O'Dea.
Mr O'Dea quit after it emerged that he had sworn a High Court affidavit denying that he had made a false allegation during a newspaper interview linking a Limerick Sinn Fein councillor with a brothel.
However, a tape of the interview confirmed Mr O'Dea had made the comments.