Sunday 23 October 2016

Who is next in line as this witch-hunt goes on despite a lack of supporting evidence?

Published 26/05/2016 | 02:30

Martin Callinan. Photo: PA
Martin Callinan. Photo: PA

For senior garda officers, an accusation of corruption is one of the most serious charges they can face.

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That was the position of five high-ranking members of the force, including the former commissioner, Martin Callinan, when the O'Higgins Commission began its work.

As the new head of the organisation, it was incumbent on Mr Callinan's successor, Nóirín O'Sullivan, to ensure as far as possible that those accusations were fully tested and given a fair hearing by the commission.

If those allegations had been allowed to go unchallenged, they could have been upheld and those findings would have undoubtedly led to a criminal investigation, with the ex-commissioner, an assistant commissioner, two chief superintendents and a superintendent ending up in the dock.

The five officers were entitled to the rights that could be extended to any other member of the force, including the man making the allegations in this case, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

As she points out in her third and latest statement on the O'Higgins controversy, Commissioner O'Sullivan has a duty to all of the organisation's members and former members.

In those circumstances, it surely was not unreasonable for the commissioner to instruct her legal team to challenge what Sergeant McCabe was saying in an effort to examine the veracity of those allegations and determine the evidence he possessed for levelling them.

Being labelled as a whistleblower does not mean that any member of the force is entitled to go unchallenged when making serious allegations against colleagues.

Ms O'Sullivan said yesterday she could not see how it would be in any way unreasonable, improper or avoidable to appropriately test and cross-examine the evidence of all persons giving evidence to the commission, including Sgt McCabe.

As it turned out, all of the allegations were either withdrawn or dismissed, with Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins stating that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support them.

Critics of the stance adopted by Ms O'Sullivan are not satisfied that she has fully clarified the instructions given to the lawyers and it is a pity that her legal advisers did not opt for a more liberal interpretation of the legislation governing commissions of inquiries.

Its a fair point that the legislation preventing disclosure of details of the proceedings, outside of the official report, is intended to cover the evidence given to the commission, rather than legal instructions.

But that depends on the interpretation drawn by the lawyers.

IN relation to some of those critics, it was always unlikely that she would satisfy their demands, irrespective of what clarifications she issued.

A similar comment applies to Ms O'Sullivan's decision to request Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to use her powers to call in the Garda Ombudsman to investigate claims that had attempted to misrepresent before the commission the contents of a meeting they held with Sgt McCabe in 2008.

A couple of years ago, the Ombudsman was seen as the body that would sort out all of the complaints brought against An Garda Síochána.

Now, according to the same critics, it is no longer acceptable for that role.

We have already seen the loss of a justice minister, a garda commissioner and a Department of Justice secretary general. Who or what is next in the critics' firing line?

Irish Independent

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