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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Beleaguered Garda chief calls in lawyers over statement

Whistleblower: Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Whistleblower: Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Garda Commissioner has hired external lawyers to advise her on how to respond to allegations that she instructed lawyers to challenge the motivations of the Garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe.

Noirin O'Sullivan is under pressure to make a statement in the coming days as the crisis over the force's treatment of the whistleblower rumbles on into its third week.

According to sources, she has consulted lawyers on a form of words that would allow her sidestep the legal constraints that prevent her commenting publicly on evidence given in private to a Commission of Inquiry.

However, sources could not say whether a statement is imminent.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and several government ministers have kicked the controversy back into the commissioner's court in recent days. Sources said they expect her to clarify publicly her support for McCabe while privately questioning his motives.

The commissioner has been called to a private meeting of the Police Authority on Thursday to discuss the adverse findings and recommendations of the O'Higgins inquiry into Sergeant McCabe's allegations of Garda malpractice.

It is understood that the agenda for the meeting does not include the force's legal tactics to challenge the claims made by the Garda whistleblower. Sources say the police oversight body is unlikely to question her about it, for the same legal reasons that have apparently precluded her from making a statement.

The controversy Commissioner O'Sullivan now finds herself in centres on the legal instructions she gave to the lawyers representing the force at the private hearings of the O'Higgins inquiry.

Mr Justice O'Higgins produced his report earlier this month, which upheld many of Maurice McCabe's concerns over poor practices. His findings were quickly overshadowed by what had been excluded from his final report.

Days after the report was published, leaked transcripts of private hearings purported to show that lawyers for An Garda Siochana said their instructions were to give evidence to show that Maurice McCabe's complaints were motivated by malice against a senior officer.

The Garda side intended to present evidence of this based on a meeting he had with two senior officers in which he admitted as much. Unknown to the officers, Sergeant McCabe had secretly taped that meeting and produced the recording to disprove the claims.

After those reports in the Irish Examiner, Ms O'Sullivan issued a statement of her support for Sergeant McCabe and insisted she never regarded him as "malicious".

But more extracts from the transcripts were widely leaked last week.

They showed the senior counsel for the Commissioner and gardai, Colm Smyth, tell the judge: "My instructions are to challenge the integrity certainly of Sergeant McCabe and his motivation."

The Government Chief Whip, Regina Doherty, highlighted the "inconsistency": "For all our sakes . . . and most particularly for the commissioner's sake, there needs to be clarity. I think in fairness the commissioner is the person that can give clarity on that. Nobody else can."

The commissioner maintains she is legally constrained from talking about the evidence given to private hearings of the O'Higgins inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act, sources said.

Sunday Independent

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