Monday 5 December 2016

Five questions: The Garda Commissioner, the whistleblower and the O'Higgins report controversy explained

Published 19/05/2016 | 06:45

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan Photo: Caroline Quinn
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan Photo: Caroline Quinn

Much confusion has been created by claims there is a contradiction between what Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has said in public about Sgt Maurice McCabe, and her instructions to her legal team representing her at the O'Higgins Commission.

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But how did this controversy begin? Here are your five questions answered:

Q.  What is the origin of all this controversy?

A. In February 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed Senior Counsel Seán Guerin to examine allegations by garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, mainly related to Cavan-Monaghan in 2007 and 2008. The most serious allegations involved an assault and child abduction case, a clerical sex abuse and pornography case and several public order incidents. Mr Guerin’s findings led to the resignation of Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

A full Commission of Inquiry under former High Court Judge Kevin O’Higgins was set up.

Q What did Judge O’Higgins find?

A. The judge upheld a number of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about serious failings in eight specific criminal investigations. He commended McCabe, but noted he was prone to exaggeration on occasion. He also found no evidence to substantiate claims of corruption by gardaí.

The report also found that former Justice Minister Alan Shatter had taken Sgt McCabe’s complaints “very seriously” and his behaviour was “entirely reasonable and appropriate”. It also said that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the Justice Department responded correctly to the complaints.

Serious deficiencies were identified in the Cavan garda district, with inexperienced and probationer officers investigating crimes without proper supervision. Crime victims were not “well served” by the gardaí or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Q Why is there a row still raging a week after the publication of the Judge’s report?

A. Opposition politicians say Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan praised Sgt McCabe publicly – but her lawyers attacked him in private during the Inquiry hearings.  

Leaked documents show her lawyers challenged his “credibility and motivation” right to the end. Earlier suggestions of “malice” appear to be based upon senior garda officers’ reports to the Commissioner.

These were debunked by tape recordings that Sgt McCabe had surreptitiously taken of his meeting with those officers. 

Q What are the implications for this Government?

A. Over two years after Enda Kenny established an inquiry, the issue lingers, undermining his already shaky Government.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is less than convincing under fire. There are also calls for the Garda Commissioner to resign. Opposition TDs claim this could raise questions about the future of the Justice Minister herself.

Q Are the people who suffered from garda errors being overlooked?

A. Yes, that is the danger. The political fallout may obscure the report’s recommendations for reforms in policing to avoid a repeat of these errors.

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