Saturday 1 October 2016

Far from calming waters, O'Higgins report upped the ante

Paul Williams

Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30

'This rumpus is just one of a growing number of uncomfortable situations in which Ms O'Sullivan has found herself.' Photo: Gerry Mooney
'This rumpus is just one of a growing number of uncomfortable situations in which Ms O'Sullivan has found herself.' Photo: Gerry Mooney

The O'Higgins Commission of Investigation does not appear to have fully achieved its original objective - to scrutinise, elucidate and bring closure to the controversy surrounding Maurice McCabe's broad sweep of explosive allegations.

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And if part of the overall mission was to detoxify the atmosphere and restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána, then that too, sadly, has also not been achieved.

Far from calming the waters, the continuing fall-out from the O'Higgins report has ratcheted up the controversy.

In a worst-case scenario, it could potentially cause the resignation of another commissioner and what would be the shortest-lived Government in history.

This weekend, despite a public statement expressing her support for the whistleblower, the Garda Commissioner is mired in another storm that does not appear to be abating.

It is now over a week since leaks from the inquiry claimed that Nóirín O'Sullivan had instructed her legal team to target Sgt McCabe's credibility and motivation.

Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins was told by the Commissioner's counsel that McCabe had admitted to two officers that his complaints were based on 'malice' - although there has since been uncertainty about when that word found its way into the narrative.

According to the information leaked into the public domain thus far, Ms O'Sullivan's counsel claimed that evidence would be offered to prove this argument.

However, the Commissioner's position changed some months later when her counsel then told Mr Justice O'Higgins that the issue of questioning McCabe's motivations was confined to allegations of corruption.

Strangely, none of these exchanges made it into the pages of the published report.

The Commissioner is now under intense political pressure to clarify exactly what line of action she instructed her legal team to take - but she has claimed that to do so would mean breaking the law.

This latest controversy has sent a cold chill of apprehension through the ranks of this very fragile Government, with members of the Cabinet distancing themselves as best they could.

Cynics suggest that Fianna Fáil has been motivated to support the Commissioner and try to draw a line under the controversy purely because it could force a vote of confidence in the fragile Government.

It is likely that Fianna Fáil does not want to be plunged into another costly general election either.

The embattled Garda Commissioner is likely to survive this latest dogfight, although she will emerge somewhat battered.

But this rumpus is just one of a growing number of uncomfortable situations in which Ms O'Sullivan has found herself.

She has promised so much - but after over two years at the helm, there seems to have been little progress.

Morale in the garda force, which is under-resourced, under-paid and under-trained, is at an historic low.

It is time for the Garda Commissioner to show some leadership and finally draw a line under this mess by clarifying her position without obfuscation or spin.

Then she should get on with the job of rebuilding morale and mutual trust in the organisation.

Irish Independent

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