Thursday 22 August 2019

Charlie Flanagan rejects suggestions his department was aware of attempts to discredit garda whistleblower

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has rejected suggestions that officials in his department were aware of attempts to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Flanagan said there is “no question” of the Department of Justice “seeking to interfere in any way” with the approach taken by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan at the O’Higgins Commission.

It has been widely reported that Ms O’Sullivan’s lawyers set out to challenge Mr McCabe’s “credibility and motivation”, although she has publicly praised his efforts to expose wrongdoing in An Garda Síochána.

Labour TD Alan Kelly has submitted a series of questions to Mr Flanagan suggesting officials had prior knowledge of the strategy adopted by Ms O’Sullivan.

In particular Mr Kelly has sought “the extent of meetings and communications” between officials and Ms O’Sullivan in the led up to the Commission which probed allegations of garda impropriety in the Cavan-Monaghan region.

Over the weekend both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was justice minister at the time, appeared to be stonewalled when asked about Mr Kelly’s assertions.

But now Mr Flanagan has said: “It was solely a matter for the parties to the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation to decide what legal approach to take to the work of the Commission, taking into account the legal advice available to them. 

“In the circumstances, the Department of Justice and Equality would have had no role in determining the approach to be taken by the Garda Commissioner to the Commission in question.

“Accordingly, there was no question of the Department seeking to interfere in any way with, or to have any say in determining, that approach by the Garda Commissioner.”

He added: “And it should go without saying that it would have been entirely inappropriate for anyone to have sought to interfere in any way with the work of the Commission.”

Since the O’Higgin’s Commission concluded, the Government has set up the Disclosures’ Tribunal which is investigating whether there was a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

The Minister said this inquiry is “armed with extensive and comprehensive terms of reference” and can seek information from the Department of Justice if necessary.

“The Tribunal’s terms of reference refer to contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and “any other State entities”. This clearly includes the Department of Justice and Equality. I am unclear as to why some members of the Oireachtas are claiming that this is not the case,” Mr Flanagan said.

The Minister also took a subtle swipe at Mr Kelly, saying: “I believe that members of the Oireachtas should be responsible in their public statements and I believe that as parliamentarians we should respect the operation of Tribunals of Inquiry. The Disclosures Tribunal was established by the Oireachtas. The Tribunal must be allowed to do its work.”

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