Friday 25 May 2018

Former Garda Commissioner gave Maurice McCabe her personal backing at face-to-face meetings, Disclosures Tribunal hears

Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle on January 22 2018. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle on January 22 2018. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan gave whistleblower Maurice McCabe her personal backing just months before instructing her lawyers to challenge his motivation and credibility at the O’Higgins Commission.

The backing was given at face-to-face meetings in August 2014 and February 2015.

Ms O’Sullivan said Sgt McCabe was experiencing workplace issues at Mullingar Garda Station in early 2015 and she was anxious for these issues to be addressed in an open and transparent manner.

Giving evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal today, she said trust and confidence in An Garda Síochána was at an all time low when she became acting Garda Commissioner in 2014.

Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle on January 22 2018. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle on January 22 2018. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

She said he was committed to implementing necessary reforms in the force and that it was very important that An Garda Síochána operate with democratic legitimacy and the consent of the public.

As part of this she offered her support to Sgt McCabe. She appointed Chief Superintendent Barry O’Brien, an officer nominated by Sgt McCabe, as a person he could bring concerns to and also arranged for him to meet Garda head of human resources John Barrett.

In its current module the tribunal is investigating whether Ms O’Sullivan relied on unjustified grounds to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission, which in 2015 investigated complaints he made of Garda malpractice.

Last week tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said she was no longer suspected of using allegations of sexual abuse to discredit Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal has previously heard Ms O’Sullivan instructed lawyers representing her at the tribunal to challenge the motivation and credibility of Sgt McCabe.

She did this after her barristers advised her to do so.

But that advice came after a consultation meeting with barristers, during which, in the words of Mr Justice Charleton, Sgt McCabe was portrayed as a bitter man who was prone to exaggeration.

The consultation meeting on May 11, 2015 was attended by barristers Colm Smyth SC, Garret Byrne BL and Michael MacNamee, a lawyer from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, Annmarie Ryan, Garda head of legal affairs Ken Ruane, and a number of gardaí. Ms O’Sullivan was not present.

The barristers were told about a previously dismissed allegation of sexual assault against Sgt McCabe and the fact he wanted the DPP’s directions in that case fully released to him and the family of the complainant.

The tribunal has heard this request was refused as it was contrary to procedure.

The barristers were also told of an incident in a hotel with Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, after which Sgt McCabe alleged he was assaulted and falsely imprisoned. This was investigated and did not lead to any charges.

One of the gardaí present at the consultation, Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy, said most of the information probably came from him.

Chief Supt Healy was the Garda liaison officer to the commission and was the officer Ms O’Sullivan used to relay instructions to her legal team.

Tribunal counsel Kathleen Leader BL observed that there didn’t appear to be any record of good things being said about Sgt McCabe at the consultation.

The tribunal heard the legal strategy was at odds with the commissioner’s treatment of Sgt McCabe in the previous months, when she had met with him and offered him her support. The commissioner had planned at the time to recruit industrial relations troubleshooter Kieran Mulvey to consider and make recommendations on a range of issues raised by Sgt McCabe.

After a row erupted over the legal strategy on the second day of the O’Higgins Commission, May 15, lawyers for Ms O’Sullivan were asked to reconfirm their instructions.

Ms O’Sullivan reconfirmed her instructions in a phone conversation with Chief Supt Healy, but not before placing a call to the Department of Justice.

Phone records show a 14-minute call was placed by Ms O’Sullivan to then acting secretary general Noel Waters.

Neither Mr Waters nor Ms O’Sullivan can recall the conversation that took place.

The tribunal has also heard how in the aftermath of the O’Higgins Commission report in May 2016, and a number of damaging media reports, Ms O’Sullivan drafted a statement she suggested then Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald could make in the Dáil.

The draft statement suggested the minister tell the Dáil that at no point did the commissioner instruct her legal team to "accuse Sgt McCabe of malice". This had been asserted in a newspaper headline the week before.

The draft statement also suggested the Tánaiste state she had full confidence in the commissioner.

However, Ms Fitzgerald did not make the suggested statement and instead sought a meeting with the commissioner the following day.

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