Monday 23 September 2019

Social worker says claim she was instructed to investigate whistleblower and partner is 'an attack on my professional integrity'

Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms leave the Charleton tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Paddy Cummins
Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms leave the Charleton tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Paddy Cummins

Gerard Cunningham

Two senior Tusla officials in Co Donegal have told the Charleton tribunal that they felt their professional integrity was attacked by allegations that the child protection agency was "leaned on" to investigate whistle-blower garda Keith Harrison.

Social worker Donna McTeague told the inquiry that she was not directed by gardaí or her line manager to make a visit to the home of Garda Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms in February 2014.

In the current module, the tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charlton, is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison, which he alleges amount to an abuse of power.

Ms McTeague said she accepted that Garda Harrison and Ms Simms had not called into question her professionalism or her engagement with them at the tribunal.

The tribunal heard that Ms Simms said that in a letter sent to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in February 2017, lawyers for Garda Harrison inferred that there was an abuse of position.

"It's not about my feelings. It's about my professional reputation," Ms McTeague said. "The inference is made that we abused our power, and that is not the case."

Bridgeen Smith, who as Team Leader was Ms McTeague's line manager in 2013, said she "categorically" did not give any direction to Ms McTeague to make a home visit to Garda Harrison and Ms Simms.

Ms Smith told the tribunal chairman she utterly refuted any allegation that she was "leaned on" by Sergeant Brigid McGowan to make the home visit.

Ms Smith said her relationship with Sergeant McGowan was "purely professional", and she felt the allegation she was "leaned on" was "an attack on my professional integrity" which she found very stressful and utterly unacceptable.

Following the Tusla home visit by Ms McTeague in 2014, Tusla closed the case, concluding that there was no risk to Ms Simms' children.

Ms Simms had made a garda statement against Garda Harrison in October 2013, which she subsequently withdrew.

Ms McTeague told the inquiry she did not have a copy of Ms Simms statement in 2014, and it would have been helpful to have seen it. She said that in 2014, it was not normal practice to seek a copy of a garda statement, but this had since changed.

The tribunal chairman said that it now appeared that no party at the tribunal was any longer putting the allegation that Ms McTeague had indicated to Ms Simms she was embarrassed to have to conduct a home visit and wouldn't be there only for directions she was given.

Ms McTeague said that had she seen Ms Simms' garda statement, it would have allowed her to make a more informed and thorough decision.

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