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Friday 20 September 2019

Garda whistleblower wants copy of private penalty points testimony, but PAC unlikely to give it to him

Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe
Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE garda penalty points whistleblower who gave evidence in private to the Dail's spending watchdog has requested a transcript of his evidence.

However, it looks highly unlikely he will be given one after the majority of the Public Accounts Committee spoke out today in opposition to the idea.

There were sharp exchanges between members after it was revealed solicitors acting for Sgt Maurice McCabe had written on behalf of the garda seeking a copy of his testimony.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy, who is opposing the release of the transcript, accused Independent TD Shane Ross, who is in favour of its release, of chasing headlines and having "an insatiable thirst for publicity".

Mr Ross suggested that efforts were being made to "bury" the transcript, a claim which drew an angry response from Labour TD Ged Nash.

Sgt McCabe gave evidence to the committee in a private meeting last week in which he outlined concerns about how a large number of fixed charge penalty notices had been cancelled with hundreds of thousands of euro in revenue being lost to the State.

Committee clerk Ted McEnery said he had received advice that the matter needed to be referred to the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privileges for consideration if the committee was in favour of releasing the transcript.

He added that it was not possible, under Oireachtas procedures, to release the transcript in redacted form.

At this point several committee members said they were against releasing the transcript.

Mr Deasy said: "I think it was a private meeting and the committee agreed it was a private meeting."

He added: "The reality is that there wasn't a great deal of substance that came from the meeting."

Mr Deasy said that in the final minutes of the meeting, the Comptroller & Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, had "debunked" many of the figures which had been given and that "there wasn't a great deal learnt by the committee".

His opposition to the release of the transcript to Sgt McCabe was supported by fellow Fine Gael TDs Eoghan Murphy and Paul Connaughton.

Meanwhile, Mr Nash said the committee needed to proceed with caution. "There could be implications for how this and other committees operate in future. This issue is much larger than Sgt McCabe," he said.

Mr Nash added it would be "remiss" of the committee not to seek further legal advice on the issue.

Mr Ross responded that it "would be absurd" if the committee refused to give Sgt McCabe the transcript and that he was unhappy with "the idea we would bury it now".

"The reason we held it in public was in case allegations were made against individuals. No such allegations were made," he pointed out.

Mr Nash took issue with the comments. "I really do reject any suggestion the committee is burying anything. I think it is a slur and should be withdrawn," he said.

At this point Mr Deasy remarked: "This is less about transparency and truth and more about getting on the six o'clock news."

He added: "This is more about particular individuals and their insatiable thirst for publicity."

Vice chairman Kieran O'Donnell, who chaired today's meeting, said that weighing up all of the factors involved the PAC would not be referring the issue to the Committee on Privileges and Procedures.

The PAC is expected to get further legal advice on the issue next week.

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