The head of the Policing Authority has expressed concern about the ability of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to carry out her role while the Charleton tribunal is under way.
The authority’s chairperson, Josephine Feehily, said there were concerns the commissioner’s focus on policing matters might be distracted by the tribunal.
She also said the authority was concerned “the motivation, the morale, the energy of the organisation, might be distracted”.
The public inquiry is set to investigate whether a smear campaign was orchestrated by senior gardaí against whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
Ms O’Sullivan faced down calls for her resignation in recent weeks and denied being aware of any such campaign. She has also rejected suggestions she should step aside while the tribunal is underway.
However, Ms Feehily stopped short of expressing full confidence that the commissioner could handle the twin challenges of running the force and dealing with the tribunal at the same time.
“I would say we have a degree of confidence, but we are concerned,” said Ms Feehily in an interview on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.
“I am not saying that is a deep concern at this point. The tribunal has not begun.
“We have flagged that concern to the commissioner. We asked that question in public yesterday.
“I think it remained to be seen whether the accelerator can be kept to the floor in policing and in modernising the organisation while servicing the tribunal.”
Ms Feehily said she would have to see what happens if events at the tribunal increase those concerns.
She said the authority was confident in terms of the commissioner and her senior team’s capacity to run the guards.
But the parallel running of a very complex organisation while servicing the tribunal was a different matter, she said.
“Until that starts to play out, I’m just saying we don’t know,” said Ms Feehily.
Ms O’Sullivan gave assurances to the Policing Authority on Thursday that she had put a team in place to meet the needs of the tribunal and she did not expect it to distract from a reform programme current underway in the force.
Ms Feehily said the authority did not support calls for the commissioner to step aside, saying she was entitled to “fair procedure”.
“It is a matter of everybody, whether in this organisation or any organisation, being entitled to their good name and being entitled to have their side heard,” she said.
One of the country's most senior gardaí has said a number of officers are anxious to give their side of events to the public inquiry that will investigate an alleged smear campaign against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.