Saturday 15 December 2018

Former garda superintendent apologises for sending circular that stated inquiry had 'vindicated' garda professionalism

Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Gerard Cunningham and Declan Brennan

A former garda superintendent has apologised for sending a 2011 circular which stated that an internal garda inquiry into allegations of criminality and systemic failures in a local district had vindicated the professionalism of gardaí in the district.

Retired Chief Supt Colm Rooney told the Charleton Tribunal that he wrote the letter after a meeting in June 2011 with then Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, who had just completed an investigation into complaints made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The allegations focused around policing in the Baileboro garda district in Co. Cavan and were investigated by Asst Comm Byrne and Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn.

Mr Rooney said that in June 2011 Asst Comm Byrne came into his office and told him that the allegations made against him by Sgt McCabe were not upheld by his investigation.

He said the investigation was now complete and had identified no criminal conduct by any gardaí, the witness said.

As a result of what Asst Comm Byrne further told him, Mr Rooney sent out a circular to garda stations in the Cavan-Monaghan division.

The circular stated that the Byrne McGinn investigation found no systemic failures identified in the management and administration of Baileboro Garda district and no evidence was found to substantiate alleged breaches of procedure.

Mr Rooney went on to say in the letter: “I would like to congratulate all members who served in Baileboro. The findings of the Assistant Commissioner vindicate the high standards and professionalism of the District force in Baileboro.

“I appreciate the manner in which the members of the District participated in the investigation, were open and truthful in their account of events surrounding the allegations”.

Today Mr Rooney told the Charleton Tribunal that these views were not a criticism of Sgt McCabe.

In its current module, the tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation.

The commission, which sat in private in 2015, investigated complaints made by Sgt McCabe about certain policing matters and about serious allegations against senior officers including then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

Mr Rooney said that in light of the findings of the O'Higgins commission and of the investigation conducted by Sean Guerin SC, he now believed the views expressed in the July 2011 letter were inappropriate.

“The views expressed in my letter congratulating were not appropriate. My vindication of the high standards was not warranted,” he said.

His apology was contained in his statement provided to the Charleton Tribunal last May. Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, told the witness that his client was unaware of this until the statement was circulated this week, prior to Mr Rooney's testimony.

Mr McDowell thanked Mr Rooney for the apology. He said the contents of the circular "were generally known and generally accepted even though they are now known to be wrong."

Mr Rooney said that at the time he sent out the circular it was correct insofar as he was told in his conversation with the assistant commissioner.

Mr Rooney said he asked Mr Byrne if all gardaí fully cooperated with his investigation, and if all gardaí told the truth. He was told they had and asked if he could notify everyone of the results of the investigation.

"I was naturally very happy with what the assistant commissioner told me that there was no criminal activity taking place in my area of responsibility," Mr Rooney said.

Mr Rooney said that his vindication of high standards and professionalism in the garda district was not warranted in the circumstances, particularly in light of findings by the Guerin review and the O'Higgins Commission of Inquiry.

"I genuinely believed what I was told about the outcome of the Byrne McGinn investigation," said Mr Rooney, who retired shortly after the circular was sent out.

Mr Rooney said that instructions he gave to the garda commissioner's legal team before the O'Higgins commission began hearings were "factually correct", and he did not instruct anybody to challenge Sgt McCabe at the commission.

Asked about a letter provided by the garda legal team at the commission on 18 May 2015, Mr Rooney said that he could only certify paragraphs relating to himself and he was not taking responsibility for the complete document.

"All I can say to that is any contribution that I had, it was factually correct," Mr Rooney said.

Mr Rooney said he could not recall if he was present when Sgt McCabe gave evidence at the O'Higgins commission. He was on "restricted entry" at the commission, which held private hearings, and was not permitted to attend all sittings.

Mr Rooney said he understood that Sgt McCabe was dissatisfied with the DPP's directions after he was investigated following an allegation of sexual assault. Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said the DPP's direction in the case was "as close to an exoneration as anyone could get."

Mr Rooney's evidence was interposed on Friday as he is leaving the country for an extended period. The evidence of John Barrett, the Garda's civilian head of human resources, will resume on Monday.

Mr Barrett had said that before the O'Higgins commission began, he was told by his boss Cyril Dunne that "we are going after him [Sgt McCabe] in the Commission." This occurred after he was asked to stay back following a meeting with garda commissioner O'Sullivan.

The tribunal heard that Chief Supt Tony McLoughlin had a conversation in either November or December 2017 in which Mr Barrett told him about this comment, but did not recall any earlier conversations.

The tribunal chairman said he had "two people who seem to be telling me diametrically opposite things."

"The truth of the matter is, in and around 13 May 2015 in a conversation with Cyril Dunne as I was about to leave he said to me we are going after him at the commission," Mr Barrett said. He said some weeks after this he spoke to Chief Supt McLoughlin about the conversation.

"But the conversation with Mr Dunne is a reality,” he said.

Mr Barrett's barrister John Rogers SC said records showed the former garda commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan returned to Dublin from London on 5.30PM flight on 13 July, and could have been in Garda HQ by 7pm at the meeting Mr Barrett described. Email records showed that Mr Barrett was working late that evening, and long hours were not unusual.

Conor Dignam SC, on behalf of the Garda Commissioner, said Ms O'Sullivan's evidence was that she had not been in Garda HQ that day at all.

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