Wednesday 16 August 2017

Inquiry must be 'parked' quickly, as lines between Garda, Dáil and RTÉ blur

Labour leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath
Labour leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

A key function of any judge-led inquiry is to see an awkward - and potentially fatal - controversy safely parked in a political siding. Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton needs the strength of Hercules and the wisdom of Solomon.

He has to complete an inquiry into an alleged campaign by the most senior officers in An Garda Síochána, including Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, to discredit the most high-profile whistleblower in the history of the force, Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Mr Justice Charleton only has to get all that finished by next November.

There will be astonishment among the chattering classes if he can meet that November deadline. But there could well be consternation in the governing minority Coalition, and in Fianna Fáil, which is underpinning the Government, as the outcome could well lead to an election.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has yet to safely park this one. The details of the terms of reference have yet to be hammered out with Fianna Fáil and she must concede to its wishes for an expanded remit.

Many of these judge-led inquiries over the last quarter century have brought us strange-but-true features and revelations. This one already looks set to be at least as strange.

RTÉ, far more used to reporting the news, looks set to have its own slot within this inquiry. Section 'g' of the terms of reference asks whether Ms O'Sullivan may have had a role in broadcasts last May which vilified Sgt McCabe.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin says there will be a "mystery guest" journalist who will tell the inquiry more of alleged claims of wrongdoing to purportedly vilify Sgt McCabe. Mr Howlin had a bad outing on RTÉ radio early yesterday but has overall done a good job defending his actions.

But he clawed back ground in the Dáil later.

It could be a long and fretful wait for Ms O'Sullivan. Already, many TDs want her to at least stand aside from her post pending Mr Justice Charleton's findings.

Sinn Féin, with 23 TDs; Labour, with seven; the Social Democrats, with two; and Independents4Change TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace; have all called for this.

They're joined by one Government backbencher, Michael D'Arcy of Fine Gael. Given this Dáil's unique arithmetic, that is a bloc of political trade.

Privately, Fianna Fáil stresses the "for now" aspect of things. More revelations - even in advance of any final report - could oblige it to withdraw support. That could force Ms O'Sullivan out - and it would then be hard to see Ms Fitzgerald keeping her post. The entire Government could end in that same move.

That is why it is imperative that the terms of reference for Mr Justice Charleton's inquiry are completed as quickly and as amicably as possible.

As we have said, a key function of any inquiry is to safely park something which is awkward and potentially fatal.

Irish Independent

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