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Saturday 20 September 2014

Official linked to garda scandals will keep job

Philip Ryan 
and Jim Cusack

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald: no personnel changes so far
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald: no personnel changes so far

THE Department of Justice official in charge of the controversial Garda Division will remain in place despite damning criticisms of his division's handling of the garda scandals.

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Department of Justice 
secretary general Brian Purcell was forced to leave his position after the independent review criticised the department's management and leadership. But Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has so far not made personnel changes to the division with direct responsibility for the handling of garda issues.

Michael Flahive is the assistant secretary over the garda division and was closely involved in the various garda and whistleblower controversies which led to the resignation of former justice minister Alan Shatter and garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

Ms Fitzgerald is believed to have developed a "good rapport" with Mr Flahive and he has been tasked with overseeing major changes in the department. He was also tipped as a possible replacement for Mr Callinan when he stepped down from his position earlier this year.

He was not named in the report compiled by the external review group chaired by Dublin Airport Authority chief executive Kevin Toland, but his division was singled out for criticism.

The review found "serious leadership and management failures" in the division during "recent events", referring to the garda scandals.

It said no-one in the division seemed to be in charge and there was no plan to deal with issues as they unfolded.

It also said there was a failure by management to recognise the "serious potential impact of issues" and they were unable to see where they went wrong afterwards.

Mr Flahive was garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe's main point of contact in the department when he raised concerns about terminated penalty points.

Throughout email exchanges Mr Flahive insisted Sgt McCabe was "offered the opportunity" to cooperate with an internal garda review of his penalty point allegations. The then minister, Mr Shatter, also publicly claimed Sgt McCabe and retired garda John Wilson did not cooperate with the inquiry led by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony.

Sgt McCabe wrote to Mr Flahive to say this was untrue and asked who had told the minister that he refused to give evidence to the garda investigation?

Mr Flahive said it was the department's "firm understanding" that Sgt McCabe was asked to submit evidence to the inquiry but did not do so. He also said Sgt McCabe was claiming the review was a "cover up" and it was his duty to provide evidence to back up these claims.

Sgt McCabe responded: "At the outset can I state it is very hurtful to read the contents in your emails, made by you and made on one-sided judgments. I again urge you to refrain from commenting until the whole penalty points issues are laid bare".

Mr Shatter eventually bowed to public pressure and apologised to the whistleblowers for suggesting they failed to cooperate with the inquiry.

He also admitted more could have been done by the garda investigation to contact the whistleblowers.

The Garda Division was also at the centre of the row over the letter from the Garda Commissioner's office about the alleged secret recording of telephone calls in garda stations. Mr Shatter was forced to admit that he was not given the letter by his officials for more than two weeks, despite the potential legal implications posed by the tapes.

The department's secretary general, Mr Purcell, passed the letter to the Garda Division where it was "worked on", according to the Department of Justice. Mr Flahive also instructed Sgt McCabe to hand over his penalty point evidence to either the Department of Justice, the Garda Commissioner or the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

Sgt McCabe later gave his evidence to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee which led to a legal dispute between TDs and the Garda Commissioner.

Mr Flahive has held the post of head of the Garda Division in the department for well over a decade and is held in high esteem by both civil servants and senior gardai who know him.

A former senior colleague in the department described him as an "assiduous" civil servant who could handle "a huge workload".

"He always had his head down working; the amount of stuff he got through under pressure was always impressive," he said. Following the retirement of Commissioner Callinan, Mr Flahive was one of the few names mooted as a possible successor.

A spokesperson for the minister did not respond to questions on Mr Flahive's position in the department but said: "an implementation plan will be put in place which will deal with all matters outlined in the review."

Sunday Independent

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