Saturday 22 October 2016

Justice Minister declines to apologise to former Garda Commissioner after report clears him of corruption allegations

Published 11/05/2016 | 14:01

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (Photo: Tom Burke)
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (Photo: Tom Burke)

TÁNAISTE Frances Fitzgerald has declined to apologise to former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan on behalf of the government in light of the publication of the O'Higgins Report that has cleared him of allegations of corruption.

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Ms Fitzgerald, the justice minister, was repeatedly asked if she would apologise to Mr Callinan - who resigned amid a series of controversies in 2014.

But while she said she had sympathy with Mister Callinan, and the former justice minister Alan Shatter - who also lost his job during those controversies  - she declined to apologise to the former Commissioner on behalf of the government.

Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins was asked to examine serious failures in criminal investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan region between 2007 and 2008 after allegations of wrongdoing raised by whistleblower Sgt. Maurice McCabe.

The O’Higgins report identified failings in eight Garda investigations and problems with Garda management. The O’Higgins report also stated that victims of crime were let down by GSOC.

One woman, Sylvia Roche Kelly, was murdered by Jerry McGrath in December 2007 while he was on bail.

He had been released from the Garda Station at Bailieboro, Co Cavan, after attacking Mary Lynch, the previous April before going on to attempt the kidnap of a child elsewhere and later to murder Ms Kelly.

Mr O'Higgins' report found "not a scintilla of evidence" to support Sgt. McCabe's claims of corruption against Mr Callinan.

Mr Shatter was forced to resign after he was accused in the Guerin Report of not heeding the whistleblower. However, the O’Higgins Commission found that the former minister had very substantial personal concerns about the allegation and his subsequent actions were “entirely reasonable and appropriate”.

The report said Sgt McCabe is a man of integrity, a “dedicated and committed member” of An Garda Siochána who had acted out of “genuine and legitimate concerns” and had shown “courage” in performing a public service at considerable cost.

The report was officially published today and Ms Fitzgerald addressed the media. Shewas asked if she would apologise to Mr Callinan.

She replied: "What I would like to say is in relation to that and what the report finds in relation to the commissioner he is that he acted with integrity and any question of corruption certainly does not apply to him."

She repeated the remarks when she was asked to apologise again and said "I fully accept the report's findings".

Ms Fitzgerald was asked if she accepted Mr Callinan was "wronged".

She replied that the Fennelly Commission had previously examined the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mr Callinan "in detail".

"Obviously when you look back at that period in relation to both the resignation of Minister Alan Shatter and the retirement of the Commissioner - what's very clear at that point is that the criminal justice system was engulfed in a series of controversies some of which are examined in this report here today and led to a situation," Ms Fiztgerald added.

"I'm sure that both former minister Alan Shatter and the Commisioner will be making their own response to the findings in this report," Ms Fitzgerald said.

She said she had sympathy for both men in losing their jobs.

"Of course at a human level, at a personal level it must have been a very traumatic time for the people involved but let me say that there are many people, many Gardaí, many individuals out there who have been impacted by the events dealt with in this report as well and I have sympathy for the victims."

Ms Fitzgerald said: "Whatever controversies might have surrounded some of the issues dealt with in the report we should not lose sight of one central and unpalatable fact: the report identifies a number of cases where victims of crime were not well served by An Garda Síochána.

"That is as unacceptable as it is disheartening and we must take all measures open to us to ensure that these shortcomings are not repeated."

She continued: "I hope there can be general agreement too that what is important now is that the report is considered carefully in its totality and that we learn whatever lessons we can from it, particularly in the context of maintaining the high level of confidence which the community have in An Garda Síochána. "

Ms Fitzgerald pointed outt hat some of the events investigated go back almost a decade.

"For my own part, I believe that it is abundantly clear that the system we had in place up to a couple of years ago to deal with reports of wrongdoing within the Force by members of it served no-one particularly well: not the people making the reports, not the people the subject of those reports, not the Garda Síochána and, above all, not the public.

"This situation has been significantly transformed in a number of respects," she said outlining how the previous government had a "comprehensive approach to enhance the protection available to whistleblowers" and how a Garda member may make a protected disclosure to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

She also said there has been an "unprecedented programme of Garda reform".

"I very much appreciate that the events outlined in the report have been traumatic for many people who have been affected by them. It would be an injustice to those who brought events to light in the public interest and those who have lived under the shadow of these events for a long time, if we do not take on board the lessons from these events.

"I hope they can take some reassurance from the fact that the examination of those events in this report will help serve to consolidate a programme of reform which will ensure we continue to have a Garda Síochána in which its members and the community it serves can take great pride.”"

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