Saturday 18 August 2018

Emotional ordeal as couple's private life is dissected in excruciating detail

Garda whistleblower and his partner revealed an up and down relationship at the tribunal, says Nicola Anderson

UNITED: Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal. Picture: Collins
UNITED: Garda Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms at the Disclosures Tribunal. Picture: Collins
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

They arrived each day at Dublin Castle hand in hand. But their disparate testimonials delivered before the Disclosures Tribunal proved such a bizarre contrast to this outward harmony that far more questions were left hanging mid-air than answers.

For an entire week, the private affairs of Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms have been pored over and dissected.

At times it felt as though onlookers were intruding on a couple's relationship counselling session as details tumbled out about grief at the loss of a baby in an ectopic pregnancy, Garda Harrison's confession that his drinking had spiralled out of control, multiple infidelities and the disapproval of an extended family over the fact that both had been married before.

It was emotionally gruelling to sit through - particularly when the value of such evidence to the tribunal seemed to be questionable at best.

Even chairman Peter Charleton seemed to drift at times into the role of counsellor, consoling Simms at one stage as she expressed a worry that people might think she was a bad mother, that nobody had called her a bad mother "with one exception".

Harrison was included in the terms of reference for the tribunal because of his claims that intervention from senior Garda management caused child protection services to become involved in his family's lives.

This is the crucial crux of his case - and it happens to be the point where the couple differ in their accounts.

On her first day before the tribunal, Marisa Simms gave evidence for over five hours, detailing how she had first met Keith while both were at NUI Galway in 1998.

They had gone on to marry other people, but got back in touch in 2010, and began a relationship.

She had two children from her marriage to Andrew Simms, and now also has a child with Harrison.

Harrison is a supportive figure in her life but that hadn't always been the case, she said. "In 2013, it was not a happy time," she said.

The couple had a tumultuous relationship and one row between the pair in September 2013 caused Simms to flee the family home in Donegal.

A week later, she gave a 28-page statement to Inspector Goretti Sheridan at Letter- kenny garda station in which she claimed Harrison had threatened her - echoed in a record of text messages between the couple.

She subsequently retracted this statement in January 2014 and a week or so later, Tusla contacted her citing concerns for her children on the basis of a referral from gardai.

After a visit from social worker Donna McTeague, it was determined that the children were "not at risk of ongoing significant harm", and the case was formally closed.

In her initial statement to the tribunal, Simms described this incident as the "ultimate invasion of family life".

But last week, she told the tribunal that she now accepted there was no basis for believing gardai manipulated Tusla into investigating her family.

"I suppose I was suspicious. I had retracted my statement, and a week and a half later I get a letter," she said.

"I have absolutely no issue with Tusla, they had received a referral. The people we were dealing with were professional, they were courteous."

She did not wish to be involved with the tribunal, she conceded with emotion when questioned. She just wanted to be left in peace. She worried that her children are in the Garda system with a Pulse ID when they do not deserve this. She worried that people would think of her as a bad mother.

However, her partner remained defiant before the tribunal lawyers' questioning in his belief that visits to his home by a social worker were due to inappropriate contacts with child welfare services by members of An Garda Siochana.

Gda Harrison said he was told by his partner that Ms McTeague had 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 Siochana.

Gda Harrison said the conversation between Simms and Ms McTeague did not take place in his presence, but that Simms had told him about it afterwards. The garda said Ms McTeague did her job professionally, and he was not criticising her.

The chairman said it seemed in his statement Gda Harrison was told by Ms McTeague there had been garda pressure. Gda Harrison said 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," Harrison said.

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

Paul Anthony McDermott SC for Tusla 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.

Sunday Independent

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