Saturday 1 October 2016

Pressure mounts on O'Sullivan to explain McCabe discrepancy

Taoiseach backs Nóirín – but expects further clarification

Cormac McQuinn and Kevin Doyle

Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30

Nóirín O'Sullivan has come under pressure from both the Government and Opposition
Nóirín O'Sullivan has come under pressure from both the Government and Opposition
Sgt Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan faces intense pressure to clarify the instructions given to her legal team ahead of their contributions to the O'Higgins Commission.

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Ms O'Sullivan has been at the centre of controversy over instructions to lawyers to attack Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe's credibility and motivation.

The Opposition and Government were united in saying that the Commissioner should make further remarks on the contentious matter.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the instructions given to the Commissioner's legal counsel need to be "clarified as a matter of urgency".

And, while expressing "100pc" support for Ms O'Sullivan, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "I'm quite sure that if the opportunity presents itself the Garda Commissioner will put into the public domain what she's legally entitled to put into the public domain."

But Ms O'Sullivan last night remained silent on additional leaked transcripts of Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins's investigation into Mr McCabe's allegations of Garda malpractice.

The Garda Commissioner is under growing pressure to clarify the apparent discrepancy between her public and private stance on Sgt McCabe's actions.

While she openly praised Mr McCabe in public, leaked transcripts from the O'Higgins Commission process suggest that her legal team were instructed to attack his credibility and motivation.

She remained silent on the matter last night amid the growing controversy, with queries on the matter referred back to a statement the Commissioner made three days ago.

But since then, political pressure has been mounting inside and outside the Dáil.

During Tuesday night's appearance on RTÉ's 'Prime Time' programme, the Justice Minister and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald repeatedly failed to express full confidence in the Commissioner.

Her spokesman then said afterwards that the Tánaiste does have "full confidence" in the Commissioner and reiterated that position last night.

But Ms Fitzgerald yesterday said it would be "helpful" if Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan would make further remarks clarifying her position amid the controversy surrounding the O'Higgins Report.

The minister said she wanted to put on the record that the O'Higgins report found that Sgt McCabe raised "genuine and legitimate" concerns and showed "courage".

The Tánaiste pointed out that Ms O'Sullivan has accepted the findings of the O'Higgins report and the Garda chief said she has never suggested that malice was Sgt McCabe's motivation.

"I will have ongoing conversations with the Commissioner, and if it is feasible and legal for the Commissioner to put further information in the public arena, I have no doubt that she will do that."

Speaking from the USA, the Taoiseach said he has "100pc support" for the Garda Commissioner.

However, Mr Kenny said that he is "quite sure" she will clarify the reasons behind her legal team's instructions.

But Opposition leader Micheál Martin referred to the leaks as "fairly damaging" and said the controversy "has escalated".

"The bottom line is the transcripts are there now for all to see Tánaiste and we can't live in some sort of make believe world that they're not".

The Fianna Fáil leader told Ms Fitzgerald that the storm over the transcripts "needs be comprehensively and transparently addressed".

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Martin said he has confidence in the Garda Commissioner but called for clarity and warned the controversy would "drag on" unless this happened.

"The daily reality is that the transcripts are leaking so you need to comprehensively deal with that scenario and take charge of it. The minister of the day, the policing authority and the Commissioner need to engage and work out the best way to do that," he said.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said instructions given to the Commissioner's legal counsel need to be "clarified as a matter of urgency".

"Obviously there are constraints in terms of what various parties can say given client-lawyer relationship privilege and so on," she told RTÉ Radio.

"But that should not prevent confirmation from the Commissioner perhaps through the Minister for Justice as to the position that was taken."

Ms McDonald said she thinks it's "legitimate now that these matters are in the public domain" that there should be further clarification.

The Department of Justice last night refused to release the full transcripts from the O'Higgins Commission, a spokesman saying it would be "completely unfair" to participants.

"Leaving aside the clear legal restrictions it would be completely unfair to all of the people who participated in the Commission's private proceedings to decide afterwards that the proceedings were public," they said.

Asked last night if Ms O'Sullivan will make a further statement on the instructions given to her legal team, a Garda spokeswoman referred the Irish Independent to previous statements the Commissioner made on the O'Higgins report.

In a statement on Monday night, Ms O'Sullivan said the gardaí fully accept the report's findings and recommendations.

She said while there are legal restrictions on her, she wanted to make clear that she does not and "never regarded Sgt McCabe as malicious".

Irish Independent

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