AN embarrassing clash between the Garda Commissioner and the Public Accounts Committee has been averted after a decision to set up an independent investigation into alleged corruption over fixing penalty points.
The move was immediately welcomed by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who disclosed that he had been in regular discussion with the minister over the past few days.
Mr Callinan had earlier received legal advice from state lawyers on the proposal by the Dail committee to hear direct evidence from one of the two garda whistleblowers who levelled allegations of corruption against a large number of senior officers in the force.
The PAC was due to meet in private session today to discuss whether whistleblower, serving sergeant Maurice McCabe, should be asked to give his evidence in public or behind closed doors on Thursday.
Seargeant McCabe has written to the clerk of the PAC to request that he is allowed attend a hearing on Thursday and give evidence in private.
In the letter he said he feels the committee “should hear and ought to hear” his evidence.
The decision to set up a new Ombudsman investigation will now top the agenda as PAC considers its options today.
PAC will now take legal advice on whether to continue with the examination of penalty points issue. The Garda Ombudsman Commission has said it wanted to proceed unhindered with its work
“We will now have to take cognisance of the minister’s direct intervention,” said PAC chairman John McGuinness.
Mr Shatter said that under legislation he had been precluded from referring the issues to the Ombudsman initially. But he had taken the step in the public interest now, because of the controversy that had arisen over the allegations.
He attacked some committee members, who he said had a tendency to prejudge issues that it was considering, and had done so in the media in recent days.
“Recent comments by that minority pose the risk of bringing the work of the committee into disrepute, undermining its role and its credibility.”
The minister was given cross-party support by Fianna Fail justice spokesman, Niall Collins, who had called last week for an enhanced role for the Ombudsman Commission in the penalty points investigation and in future similar inquiries.
Mr Collins said it was crucial that the issues brought to the PAC’s attention were fully investigated. But comments made by certain committee members betrayed a lack of understanding of the issues and of the role of the gardai.
GSOC said it expected and would be demanding full and immediate co-operation from all parties.
It welcomed Mr Shatter’s call for parties to allow it to proceed unhindered with its work.
Explaining the background to his decision, the minister said serious allegations had been made against many unnamed gardai.
Those were being repeated publicly by some committee members, without those accused being given an opportunity to examine them or defend their reputations.
“The rolling nature of the allegations is such that the Garda Commissioner, prior to his appearance last week before the committee, was given no reasonable time to conduct a detailed examination of new allegations made.
“The reality is that there are legal and practical constraints on the ability of the PAC to determine the veracity of claims made in relation to individual penalty point cases”, Mr Shatter said.
“This could lead to a situation where the committee is simply used as a platform for persons to make a series of unsubstantiated assertions on which the committee would not be able to come to a reliable conclusion and which could be very damaging to individual members of An Garda Siochana and to private citizens.”
He pointed out that many of those allegations had been investigated by Assistant Garda Commissioner John O’Mahony and dealt with in his report.
He said he was aware of some concerns that the investigation was not independent of the garda force – but he was not aware of the persons making the allegations putting forward any substantive evidence that would call Mr O’Mahony’s findings into question, despite requests to do so.
Mr Callinan promised his full support to the Ombudsman.