'I didn't accuse sergeant of malice' - Garda chief
Members of force who raise issues ‘will be fully supported’
The Garda Commissioner bowed to political pressure last night to issue a statement on the latest controversy to engulf the force.
Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said that she had never regarded whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe as “malicious”.
Her denial came as reports claimed that the garda legal team had planned to say Sgt McCabe had acted with malice in bringing accusations against his fellow officers and his superiors.
The affair threatened to turn into another saga with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin demanding Ms O’Sullivan clarify her position.
The series of controversies in which the force has found itself has led to a decline in morale and public unease at the level of service being delivered.
At the same time, the force is having to fight the biggest organised crime threat in two decades as well as an increase in the dissident IRA terror threat.
The governance of the force will be debated in the Dáil later this week.
In her statement issued last night, Ms O’Sullivan said that Sgt McCabe’s contribution was valued, and that the service had changed for the better in response to the issues he had raised.
“I want to make it clear that I do not, and never have regarded Sgt McCabe as malicious,” she said.
The Commissioner will hope it will be enough to stave off any further criticism.
She is due to announce the promotion of new senior officers shortly, which many will hope will open a fresh chapter.
The group of new chief superintendents will lead the force as it grapples with internal and external problems.
Following the publication of the O'Higgins report, which vindicated the roles played by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and ex-Justice Minister Alan Shatter in dealing with the McCabe allegations, it was claimed Ms O'Sullivan's legal team had planned to tell the O'Higgins inquiry that Sgt McCabe was motivated by malice.
But in her rejection of the anonymous claims last night, she said she had consistently, and without exception, within An Garda Síochána and in public, stated clearly that dissent was not disloyalty.
"Any member of An Garda Síochána who raises issues will be fully supported. Each and every one of them must know they have the right and responsibility to raise their concerns and be confident they will be listened to and addressed. They won't always be right and we, in management, won't always be right either."
Meanwhile, Ms O'Sullivan will be hoping that she can ease public concerns and also prove to the new Garda Authority everything is under control.
Internally, there are signs of division even at the highest ranks and the importance of healing any rifts has become crucial.
"Noirin is a very effective manager. She is probably the brightest Commissioner in a long time. Now she must show she has the leadership skills to heal the force and then bring it to the next level," a government source said last night.
"The last thing anyone wants is a series of controversies blighting the Garda. People and politicians want to move on; they want to see crime being tackled. They don't want the guards fighting with each other and politicians then getting involved. It is time for a new chapter and soon," said the source.