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Monday 22 September 2014

Shatter 'utterly astonished' by whistleblower conversation

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Published 28/02/2014 | 02:30

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Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Whistleblower Garda Sgt.Maurice McCabe.Picture: Tom Burke
Whistleblower Garda Sgt.Maurice McCabe.Picture: Tom Burke

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter said he was "astonished" by the alleged conversation between sacked garda confidential recipient Oliver Connolly and garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

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The Irish Independent has also learned that the minister knew about the controversial conversation almost a week before he announced his plans to abolish the confidential recipient office.

Mr Connolly is alleged to have told Sergeant McCabe that the Justice Minister would "go after" him if he pursued his claims of malpractice in the force outside official channels.

Mr Connolly was sacked when a transcript of the conversation was read into the Dail by opposition politicians.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Mr Shatter said he had "absolutely no idea what Mr Connolly was thinking".

He added: "To be quite frank with you, I am utterly astonished at some of the commentary that has come into the public arena. I don't understand why he conducted himself in that way.

"It remains as much of a surprise and a mystery to me as I'm sure it would to others. Genuinely, I cannot explain this."

The under-fire minister has gone to lengths to point out that he announced his intentions to end the system – which allows gardai make anonymous complaints – before the recent whistleblower scandal.

On January 27, Mr Shatter said he was instructing the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to investigate Sgt McCabe's claim of widespread termination of penalty points by senior members of the force.

COMPLAINTS

In the same statement, the minister said he was reviewing aspects of the Garda Siochana Act which prohibited officers from making complaints to GSOC about policing issues.

Two days later, a letter outlining Mr Connolly's comments was sent by registered post to the minister's office by a newspaper.

On February 5, during a debate on whistleblower legislation, the minister announced he was abolishing the office because the "system does not work".

It was during the same debate that Independent TD Mick Wallace first revealed details of the taped conversation which ultimately led to Mr Connolly's dismissal.

Mr Wallace claimed the garda confidante told Sgt McCabe: "If Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished" and "If Shatter thinks, 'Here's this guy again trying another route trying to put pressure', he'll go after you."

This was the first time the public heard details of the secret recording but the Justice Minister's office was already aware of the comments made by his official appointee.

On February 19, with pressure mounting from the opposition benches, Taoiseach Enda Kenny dramatically announced that Mr Connolly had been relieved of his duties with immediate effect.

The following day, Mr Shatter said he was forced to sack the barrister because he would not deny the comments which, if true, could potentially "undermine" the office.

"I believed his position was untenable and I had no alternative but to relieve him of the position," he said.

Mr Connolly has not spoken publicly since he was removed from office, but last week he told the 'Sunday Independent' he would "respond to events at an appropriate time".

Irish Independent

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