Saturday 1 October 2016

It's strange that everyone waited until after inquiry before voicing concerns

Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30

Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke

There was a time when the privilege granted to TDs to make allegations in the Dáil, without fear of facing legal action as a result, was regarded as special.

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It was something to be used sparingly - and then only in special circumstances, where the information revealed was regarded as highly important and there were no other means of putting it in the public domain.

But now it seems to be used at will, irrespective of the rights of those being accused of wrongdoing and their inability to defend themselves - unless the allegations are repeated outside the Dáil, where there is no special privilege.

We witnessed two uses of that special privilege in the Dáil this week.

In one case, a TD named two gardaí in relation to conflicting accounts of a meeting they had held with garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at a meeting in Mullingar.

It was claimed that this account could have misled Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins about what was said at that meeting.

However, one of the gardaí named was not even listed as a witness at the O'Higgins Commission and cannot seek a fuller picture of the background, as the details of what was said and by whom at the commission must, by law, remain confidential.

A series of allegations were also made in the Dáil about the behaviour of gardaí in the Leitrim division.

But again, these were not clarified and at the moment every garda that has worked in that area in the past will hope that more information is forthcoming.

Last night, gardaí were still in the dark about many of the allegations.

The allegations about the Mullingar meeting feeds into the very public controversy about what instructions were given by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to her legal team at the O'Higgins Commission.

Ms O'Sullivan has already denied claims that they were accusing Sgt McCabe of malice or that the lawyers had been instructed to impugn his integrity.

In the light of all that has been said and written since Judge O'Higgins published his final report, it is interesting to note that nobody wondered why those claims were not put to Ms O'Sullivan at an earlier stage.

She was called as a witness at the inquiry before Christmas - and was not cross-examined on the issues of malice or of impugning the integrity or Sgt McCabe.

It was also open to any of the parties to apply for part of the hearing to be held in public, as this was possible under the legislation governing commissions of inquiry if there were concerns, as suggested, that there was an attempted cover-up.

And any of the interested parties, who were worried about the alleged conflict in the accounts of the Mullingar meeting, could have lodged a complaint with GSOC.

It is very strange that everybody waited until the commission had completed its inquiry before voicing concerns.

Key issues that the watchdog has told Garda chief to tackle

- The Policing Authority expressed its “serious concern at the recurrence of the performance failures that were identified by previous inquiries”, including the Morris Tribunal and various Garda Inspectorate reports.

- Gardaí should engage an external provider in order to carry out an independent culture audit.

- The commissioner was questioned on the steps which senior gardaí take to facilitate “speaking up” about wrongdoing in An Garda Síochána.

- The Policing Authority said the Garda Síochána Protected Disclosure policy should be published at the earliest possible date.

- The Garda Síochána Public Attitude Survey should be published immediately.

- The Policing Authority also expects to see a formal Garda response to the findings and recommendations that were made by Judge O’Higgins in his report.

- It welcomed the Garda Commissioner’s immediate acceptance of the commission’s findings, apology to victims and acknowledgement that there are lessons to be learned.

- Two meetings will be held in public with the Garda Commissioner in June for more detailed discussions.

- The authority wants to examine further how An Garda Síochána will develop its capacity to recruit and train, while at the same time meeting existing skills deficits.

Irish Independent

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