Wednesday 7 December 2016

Garda chief 'will clarify controversy in her own time'

Wayne O'Connor and Niall O'Connor

Published 23/05/2016 | 02:30

Sgt Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Sgt Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said it is up to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to decide when to address the O'Higgins report controversy, which threatens to cast a shadow over the Government for a second consecutive week.

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Ms Fitzgerald maintained her soft line on the issue yesterday as she declined to say when she believes Ms O'Sullivan will clarify the instructions given to her legal team at the O'Higgins investigation.

And the Justice Minister was forced to defend her department's relations with An Garda Síochána in response to a scathing attack from new Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin.

Mr Howlin described the department as the "downtown office" of the gardaí and said he had no confidence in its ability to drive the change necessary within the force.

"There were two reports in the last year from the Garda Inspectorate relating to very broad-ranging reforms that are necessary. I am not convinced yet that they have been embraced," Mr Howlin told RTÉ's 'This Week' programme.

"Bluntly, I have no confidence in the Department of Justice to drive that change because I think there is too close of a relationship between the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána, who sometimes see themselves as the downtown office of An Garda Síochána, as opposed to the people who are managing policing in Ireland, as well as a number of other things."

The issue of the O'Higgins report is expected to be discussed at Cabinet tomorrow.

Much focus will be on some of the Independent ministers, who have to date refused to express confidence in Ms O'Sullivan until she clarifies reports that she instructed her team to question the credibility of garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald said Ms O'Sullivan will speak about the matter in her own time.

She added that gardaí had a lot of making up to do after austerity strained garda numbers and resources.

She also refused to say when the Garda Commissioner should clarify why her legal team allegedly attacked Sgt McCabe's credibility during the commission hearings.

"That is entirely up to the Garda Commissioner. There is a meeting of the Policing Authority on Thursday, we will have the debate in the Dáil and there will be other forums where this will be discussed," Ms Fitzgerald said.

"As I said in relation to the Garda Commissioner, what's legal and feasible, I am sure she will in the appropriate form, make a comment in relation to that."

The Tánaiste also said the Dáil would debate the findings of the O'Higgins report this week.

And she added that the Commissioner is due to appear in front of the Policing Authority later this week.

In response to Mr Howlin's criticism of the Department of Justice, Ms Fitzgerald said he is aware of the changes that have taken place in the garda force as a result of his time in Cabinet.

"At the time when Deputy Howlin was a Minister for Public Expenditure there was a lot of investment in An Garda Síochána and that has led to a lot of changes and a lot of support for them, because during the changes and the period of the economy doing poorly, clearly investment virtually stopped so there is a lot of making up to do," Ms Fitzgerald said.

"The O'Higgins Commission looked in a very detailed way at a whole range of issues in relation to An Garda Siochana. There is a lot of learning there. Much has changed since 2007 and 2008. There has been a programme of reform, indeed a lot of investment."

Irish Independent

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