Monday 20 August 2018

Charleton Tribunal hears allegation of inappropriate garda contact with child welfare service

Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Gerard Cunningham

Garda Keith Harrison has told the Charleton tribunal that he believes visits to his home by a social worker were due to inappropriate contacts with child welfare services by members of An Garda Síochána.

In the current module, the tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charlton, is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Gda Harrison, which he alleges amount to an abuse of power.

Gda Harrison said that he was told by his partner, Marisa Simms, that social worker Donna McTeague apologised for having to make a home visit in February 2014, and said the visit was carried out because her superior had been in contact with An Garda Síochána.

The previous October, Ms Simms had made a statement of complaint to gardai about Gda Harrison, which she withdrew in January 2014.

Tribunal counsel, Pat Marrinan SC, said Ms Simms was no longer pursuing an allegation that Ms McTeague had said she was under pressure from a superior, who was under pressure from the gardai.

Gda Harrison said that the conversation between Ms Simms and Ms McTeague did not take place in his presence, but Ms Simms had told him about it afterwards. He said he believed then and still believed it had taken place.

The garda said that Ms McTeague did her job professionally, and he was not criticising her.

The tribunal chairman asked Gda Harrison if he was saying that Sergeant Brigid McGowan, the Garda /HSE liason officer, had "leant on" the social workers to make a home visit.

"What I'm saying is the Team Leader had a conversation with Sgt McGowan that was relayed to Donna McTeague," Gda Harrison said.

Mr Marrinan said Ms McTeague said she never told Gda Harrison and Ms Simms there would be no more meetings after she met with the couple on 7 February 2014.

She said she never had any conversation with her superior about having to make another home visit because the gardai had been in contact, and to her knowledge no such conversation ever took place.

The chairman said it seemed in the statement Gda Harrison had made that he was told by Ms McTeague there had been garda pressure. Gda Harrison said that he was told this by Ms Simms, and had not heard it directly from Ms McTeague.

"Perhaps I should have made that clearer, but I'm making it clear, that's what I was told," Gda Harrison said. He said he was not tailoring his evidence to fit with that of Ms Simms.

"Marisa may not recall the conversations. It was my belief at the time and it is my belief now," Gda Harrison said.

The chairman asked Gda Harrison if he understood that ascribing to somebody something they did not say or do, was a wrong thing to do. Gda Harrison said he did.

Paul Anthony McDermott SC on behalf of Tusla, asked Gda Harrison why he did not request his records from Tusla, which would have cost only the price of a stamp.

In a letter on 27 February 2014 after the last home visit, Gda Harrison and Ms Simms were informed they could request their records under Freedom of Information and Data Protection laws, and make amendments to any errors.

Gda Harrison said this "would possibly have brought Tusla back into our lives, which we didn't want."

"I had concern over the contacts between Tusla and An Garda Síochána at that time," Gda Harrison said. "We were relieved there was going to be no more contacts.”

When Mr McDermott asked the witness if he would take a final opportunity to withdraw the suggestion that a personal connection between Tusla and garda personnel was the reason for the home visits, Gda Harrison said he was told at an earlier meeting in HSE offices in St Conall's hospital that there was "a close working relationship between An Garda Siochana and Tusla."

Mr McDermott asked if Gda Harrison could see a difference between a "close working relationship" between Tusla and an Garda Síochána and the bald phrase "there was a relationship between them".

"I am standing over that there was a clear reference to a close working relationship which I took as that," Gda Harrison said.

Mr McDermott put it to Gda Harrison that he had made "a series of incorrect allegations about Tusla that clearly haven't stood up to a moment's scrutiny."

"I haven't made any allegations about Donna McTeague or Tusla but I have made allegations that there was improper incorrect contacts between the two organisations," Gda Harrison said.

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