We can't let McCabe row hamstring Gardaí
Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30
When Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan took over, the force was in crisis. Controversy had seen her predecessor, Martin Callinan, step aside along with then Justice Minister Alan Shatter, in unprecedented circumstances. The allegations of a whistleblower had rocked the establishment. Her task was to lift Garda morale, and restore confidence. In 2014, she said: "We do have to listen to critics of the system, we have to be open to hearing what they have to say - that is very important. And I do intend to provide leadership in that regard."
She singled out the whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, for praise. She said: "Clearly what we need as well is a new era, a new culture so that the Irish people, the Irish citizens can have confidence in our policing system and confidence in our police. Confidence in our justice system is equally critical." Her mission was to herald a new era of trust, transparency and accountability.
So how have we come to a pass where leaked files claim that lawyers for Ms O'Sullivan had sought to question Sgt McCabe's motivations and his credibility? How could so many troubling questions again be raised, questions so grave that the credibility of the entire force could be tarnished unless they are clarified?
Did members of the gardaí try to undermine the credibility of a fellow officer by manufacturing evidence? It is just as important to know if Ms O'Sullivan was aware of this and, if so, what she did about it.
Trust and integrity are essential to all frontline public servants, nowhere more so than in the case of the Gardaí.
Trust is the foundation of their relationship with the public, so anything that could damage or corrode that must be dealt with immediately.
Independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have both made excoriating attacks on the commissioner's handling of the matter. Mr Wallace said: "She's still not rowing back on challenging his motivation or his - Sgt McCabe's -credibility. Who in God's name would be a whistleblower?"
Ms Daly was equally forceful, saying: "The issue is that the Garda Commissioner's legal team allegedly on her instructions attempted to deliberately mislead the commission by entering false information to challenge the motivation and credibility of Maurice McCabe."
When given the chance three times to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald chose not to do so on RTÉ. Yesterday, she was more supportive but she also said that she expected that Ms O'Sullivan would clarify matters. The Garda chief also came under pressure from Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty, who also stated that only Ms O'Sullivan can explain the discrepancy between her stated support for Sgt McCabe and the details of the transcript released so far.
Ms Doherty said, "There's definitely an inconsistency about the very clear statement the commissioner made two days ago and what was leaked illegally."
Ms Fitzgerald said she does not think it is appropriate for her to respond to allegations made in the transcripts. If it is not appropriate for a Justice Minister to respond, one has to wonder who can?
Every day, gardaí put their lives on the line. Recently, we have seen the ruthless extremes drug barons will go to as they prey on our society. There is also the growing threat from dissident republicans. We need the Gardaí at their best without the distraction of damaging allegations threatening to besmirch a reputation built on courage and integrity.
Ms O'Sullivan and the Justice Minister must put these claims to rest as soon as possible. Both of their predecessors saw the ground crumble under their feet. History has an unhelpful habit of repeating itself in all kinds of unexpected ways, especially if it is given a free hand.