Monday 21 January 2019

O'Sullivan on a mission to distance herself from McCabe controversy

Nóirín O’Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Nóirín O’Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

For someone who was in charge at the time, Nóirín O'Sullivan has demonstrated a remarkable detachment from one of the great Garda controversies.

Throughout her appearance at the Disclosures Tribunal this week she managed to portray herself as someone who was somewhat distant from the fray despite being one of the central participants.

Colm Smyth Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Colm Smyth Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

The current module of the tribunal is examining whether false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied on by Ms O'Sullivan to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

This was the 2015 inquiry held in private into allegations of Garda malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan division, on foot of concerns raised by Sgt McCabe.

Over the course of three days at Dublin Castle, Ms O'Sullivan did her level best to put considerable distance between herself and the matters under investigation.

She was insistent that far from seeking to do down Sgt McCabe, she had been someone who had been very supportive to him.

Maurice McCabe
Maurice McCabe

There were meetings with Sgt McCabe in 2014 and early 2015 where she offered him her full support.

On numerous occasions she spoke of assistance he was given at various stages when he was having difficulty with colleagues.

Industrial relations troubleshooter Kieran Mulvey was even approached to examine workplace issues identified by Sgt McCabe.

If she was hands-on in this regard, it was striking then how detached in comparison her approach to the O'Higgins Commission was.

Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Ms O'Sullivan testified that she largely delegated dealing with the commission to subordinates and her legal team. And although she says she was kept abreast of developments, the finer detail, such as the language used by her lawyers, was not known to her.

To date, no evidence has been heard by the tribunal that would support any suggestion the former Garda commissioner used the complaint that Sgt McCabe sexually assaulted Ms D, the daughter of a colleague, to discredit him. This was an allegation Sgt McCabe was cleared of in 2007.

So the tribunal is focused now on whether other unjustified grounds were used against him.

It has heard how Colm Smyth SC, the lead counsel for Ms O'Sullivan and other senior gardaí, made an error when he challenged Sgt McCabe's integrity at the commission in May 2015.

He has confirmed he was never instructed by Ms O'Sullivan to do so.

And despite getting regular updates, she has insisted she was not aware he used the word until months later.

The tribunal has also heard how a letter prepared by Ms O'Sullivan's legal team for the commission contained a false allegation that Sgt McCabe had effectively blackmailed a Garda superintendent.

There has been no evidence to show that Ms O'Sullivan had anything to do with this document.

It was compiled following consultation with other officers. Mr Smyth has told the tribunal the allegation was included "on the explicit instructions" of a client "who got it wrong".

We know the client referred to was not Ms O'Sullivan. According to Chief Supt Fergus Healy, the Garda liaison officer to the commission, the officers consulted by the lawyers were Supt Noel Cunningham and Chief Supt Colm Rooney.

But legal professional privilege precludes Mr Smyth from revealing what was said in those consultations.

We will never know if these issues could have been avoided had Ms O'Sullivan been more hands-on.

But it is clear her management style did not help things.

Despite the importance of the commission, it is evident preparations for it by Ms O'Sullivan were rushed.

A legal team to represent the commissioner and other senior officers was appointed very late in the day. Mr Smyth said he had just 48 hours to prepare.

A consultation meeting took place with the lawyers three days before the commission began, but for some reason Ms O'Sullivan did not attend. Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton has observed that the "central thrust" of the briefing was that Sgt McCabe "was a bitter man" and "perhaps someone who tends to exaggerate things".

Ms O'Sullivan's liaison officer to the commission, Chief Supt Healy, has testified that most of the information at the meeting probably came from him.

Based on this consultation and others with Garda witnesses, the legal counsel suggested Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility should be challenged.

Ms O'Sullivan said the advice presented her with "an unprecedented dilemma".

Ultimately, she felt Sgt McCabe's allegations should be tested as she also had a duty towards the individuals against whom those allegations had been made.

Here was a commissioner who had been publicly supporting Sgt McCabe but was now seeking to challenge him in private.

Ms O'Sullivan's solicitor Annmarie Ryan sensed the strategy was "political dynamite" and was desperate for a face-to-face consultation to go over the instructions.

She did not get one until several months later.

In the meantime, things blew up spectacularly at the commission as Sgt McCabe's integrity was questioned and the blackmail allegation was aired, only for the whistleblower to produce a tape recording to show he had not said what was alleged.

Irish Independent

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