Sunday 18 November 2018

'Selective leak was designed to damage career,' says O'Sullivan

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has claimed the "deliberate, selective leaking" of part of a transcript from the O'Higgins Commission was designed to "do maximum damage" to her.

Ms O'Sullivan said she felt "completely isolated" after then-tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald did not express confidence in her in the wake of a newspaper report which claimed her legal team had been instructed to accuse whistleblower Maurice McCabe of malice at the commission.

She told the Disclosures Tribunal she felt she would have to consider her position if Ms Fitzgerald did not back her publicly. She said the story in May 2016 led to days of "frenzied activity" during which she was used as "a political football".

Ms O'Sullivan said a three-minute portion of the commission's proceedings had been leaked, giving an inaccurate picture of what had occurred.

While she did give instructions to lawyers to challenge Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility, she insisted she did not suggest any bad faith on his part or question his integrity.

She said she had been unable to respond in a comprehensive way to the media report as evidence at the commission was heard in private.

Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

"Deliberate and selective leaks were put into the media in a situation where I could not respond and to do the maximum damage to my position and reputation," she said.

Ms O'Sullivan said she had been faced with suggestions she had in some way, for improper motives, attempted to impugn Sgt McCabe by using the innuendo of a sexual allegation.

The tribunal heard Ms Fitzgerald did not express confidence in her despite being asked on a number of occasions during an interview on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'.

The following morning, May 18, Ms O'Sullivan sent a series of emails to the tánaiste, including what appeared to be a draft statement that could be read in the Dáil.

This statement contained the legal advice Ms O'Sullivan had relied on when making the decision to challenge Sgt McCabe. It also contained a line expressing confidence in the commissioner.

However, Ms Fitzgerald did not read the statement in the Dáil and instead sought a meeting with Ms O'Sullivan. The tánaiste did not agree with releasing the legal advice due to the precedent this would set.

Ms O'Sullivan denied she had drafted a statement for the tánaiste to read.

She said she had in fact been drafting a statement for herself and may well have referred to herself in the third person. This is what she sent to the minister as "points of information", she said. Ms O'Sullivan said the email contained facts the tánaiste could choose to rely on.

The tribunal heard that a further letter was drafted by Department of Justice assistant secretary Ken O'Leary for Ms O'Sullivan to send to the minister outlining what had occurred at the O'Higgins Commission.

Several drafts of this letter were sent back and forward between the commissioner's team and the department.

Public relations adviser Terry Prone was also consulted on the structure of the letter.

One draft of the document was labelled "last chance saloon" in an email sent by Deputy Commissioner John Twomey.

Ms O'Sullivan denied Mr O'Leary had vetted the letter, but said he had contributed to it. "I felt it was the most important letter of my career," she said. "I felt my reputation and my position as Garda commissioner was dependent on it."

Irish Independent

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