Tuesday 24 September 2019

Tusla officials deny agency was 'leaned on' to probe whistleblower

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Gerard Cunningham

Two senior Tusla officials have said they felt their professional integrity was attacked by allegations the child protection agency was "leaned on" to investigate Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison.

Donna McTeague told the Charleton Tribunal yesterday 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 Charleton, is looking at contacts between gardaí and the HSE/Tusla relating to Garda Harrison.

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 Children's Minister 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.

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

She also told the tribunal that she was satisfied there were no child welfare issues after meeting with Garda Harrison and Ms Simms in February 2014, but said that she would still need to visit the couple at home and see their children before closing out the file.

Ms McTeague, who was being cross examined by counsel for Garda Harrison, said she did not apologise to Garda Harrison and Ms Simms for having invited them to meet in her office.

The tribunal continues today.

Irish Independent

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