Saturday 22 July 2017

Commissioner says McCabe case has impacted on perception of Garda force

Noirin O'Sullivan was speaking after the force had been mired in controversy
Noirin O'Sullivan was speaking after the force had been mired in controversy
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has admitted the Maurice McCabe controversy has had a “huge impact in terms of perception of the force”.

However, the commissioner, who has rejected calls for her resignation in recent weeks, insisted work was being done to ensure “attitudes and values” are in place to prevent a similar controversy from arising again.

Speaking at a meeting of the Policing Authority, Ms O’Sullivan also said she welcomed the fact the Charleton tribunal will be conducted in public.

She insisted her appearances before the public inquiry would not deflect her from plans to reform the force.

The commissioner said she had put a team in place to deal with the needs of the Charleton tribunal and she did not expect it to distract from the reform programme, which she described as the largest in the force’s 94-year history.

Commissioner O’Sullivan said there had been “significant controversies and crises” over the past three years and vacancies at senior levels in the force, but these issues had not stopped it from tackling major issues such as property crime, organised crime and dissident activity.

The tribunal is to investigate the extent of Commissioner O’Sullivan’s knowledge of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe after he began whistleblowing about the abuse of the penalty points system.

Former head of the Garda Press Office, Superintendent David Taylor, claimed in a protected disclosure he was directed to send text messages to garda, journalists and politicians about Sgt McCabe and that Ms O’Sullivan was aware of the campaign to undermine him.

This has been denied by the commissioner.

She was not asked direct questions by the Policing Authority about her alleged role in the controversy today.

Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily said it was restricted in the range of questions which could be directed to the commissioner, who was accountable to the Government.

She said this was a clear statutory distinction the authority had to be mindful of and meant they could not ask questions about ongoing investigations, including tribunals of inquiry.

Questions about the controversy were confined to the impact it has had on the perception of the force and the challenge of maintaining public confidence.

Ms O’Sullivan said “negative sentiment” was something she encountered “every single day”.

She said that if a garda member was waking up to negative headlines every day it would “of course have an impact”.

The commissioner said the force was working to manage the impact on confidence and to “reassure people the job is being done”.

She said trust was a very fragile thing and was earned “one encounter at a time”.

The commissioner said the force enjoyed very high levels of trust from the community and reforms needed to be pressed ahead with, including embedding a code of ethics.

Authority member Maureen Lynott asked what was being done to address information given to the “media maliciously, loosely or casually”.

Ms O’Sullivan admitted there had been concerns expressed by the judiciary, public and GSOC about unauthorised leaks and said she took data protection “very seriously”.

She said the issue had not been “perfected yet”, but she was working to ensure that policies were transparent and that only appropriate information was given out to the media.

She said it was very important for the force to have processes which protect individuals.

The meeting also heard that An Garda Síochána is to have a joint initiative with Transparency International to encourage members to speak up about issues.

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey said a memorandum was being agreed in relation to support to gardaí who wish to raise concerns.

This will involve a phone line and also support during the process, he said.

Commissioner O’Sullivan said: “People will have a place they can go outside the organisation, but linking into the organisation.”

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