Sunday 22 April 2018

O'Sullivan 'too busy' to meet solicitor about strategy before commission

Annmarie Ryan from the Chief State Solicitor’s office (second right) arrives at the Charleton Tribunal
Annmarie Ryan from the Chief State Solicitor’s office (second right) arrives at the Charleton Tribunal
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A solicitor who represented Nóirín O'Sullivan at the O'Higgins Commission described her client's strategy to attack the motivation and credibility of whistleblower Maurice McCabe as "political dynamite".

Annmarie Ryan of the Chief State Solicitor's Office expressed the view during a conversation with a chief superintendent who was relaying the legal instructions the then Garda commissioner.

Ms Ryan told the Disclosures Tribunal that despite the fact she was representing Ms O'Sullivan, she did not have a consultation with her at the time. Instead instructions were relayed by Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy, who was liaising with the commissioner.

Ms Ryan said she was "not happy" that she had not been instructed directly as the issue was "highly political and highly sensitive".

"I would have preferred to have dealt directly with the commissioner in relation to the matter," she said.

Ms Ryan said she was told the commissioner was "very busy" and could not meet at the time.

The tribunal is examining whether false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by Ms O'Sullivan to discredit Sgt McCabe at the commission, which probed allegations made by Sgt McCabe of Garda malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan division.

The tribunal has heard a number of senior gardaí believed Sgt McCabe developed a grievance after superiors refused to release the full DPP findings in relation to a dismissed sexual assault allegation against him.

Under cross-examination by Michael McDowell SC, counsel for Sgt McCabe, Ms Ryan said it was not a case of her being unhappy with the legal strategy, but being unhappy that she was not instructed directly by the commissioner. But Ms Ryan admitted that when she became aware of the commissioner's instructions she could "see trouble brewing".

After a row arose over the legal strategy at the commission on May 15, 2015, Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins had adjourned proceedings to allow Ms O'Sullivan's counsel Colm Smyth SC to confirm his instructions.

Ms Ryan said this confirmation was received via Chief Supt Healy, who had spoken with the commissioner. She knew Ms O'Sullivan had consulted with the Department of Justice on the matter, but did not know who with, although she speculated in a note that "perhaps the minister" was spoken to.

A lengthy letter, setting out the matters that counsel for Ms O'Sullivan wished to rely upon in challenging Sgt McCabe's motivation, was drafted for the commission after that day's hearing. Ms Ryan arranged for it to be copied to Michael Dreelan, an advisory counsel in the Office of the Attorney General, and spoke to him by phone.

It has previously emerged Mr Dreelan briefed his deputy director general Richard Barrett on the matter.

Mr Barrett in turn contacted Department of Justice assistant secretary Michael Flahive, who emailed the then Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The discovery of this email, which Ms Fitzgerald does not remember receiving, and others almost prompted the fall of the Government last November. An election was averted when she resigned.

Ms Fitzgerald has denied any input into the legal strategy.

Ms Ryan said she contacted Mr Dreelan to put him "on notice" of what had happened.

She was worried Sgt McCabe might seek a judicial review in the High Court and that the matter would then become public.

Irish Independent

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