Saturday 25 November 2017

Coveney: 'We must protect whistleblowers'

PAC chairman claims system 'benefitted an elite'. Two district judges had points quashed three times

Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney
Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney

ELAINE BYRNE and Daniel McConnell

A SENIOR government minister has called for a "credible system" to allow gardai and other public servants to become whistleblowers.

In the wake of the publication last week of the Garda Inspectorate's report into whistleblower allegations about the administration of the penalty points system, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney yesterday said that whistleblowers need to be encouraged to speak out.

And he also urged the immediate strengthening of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman's Office (GSOC), which currently cannot examine complaints against the Garda Commissioner and cannot access the Garda Pulse computer system directly.

The minister's statement comes as the Sunday Independent learned that two district judges named in the Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe whistleblower file on penalty points each had their points removed three times. Points were also removed for the spouse of one of the judges.

This revelation is particularly serious in light of the fact that it is district judges who adjudicate on a daily basis on citizens who face the imposition of penalty points on foot of charges under the road traffic acts.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), John McGuinness, claimed the penalty points system benefited "an elite".

"The more you were in with a guard, the better your chances were of escaping legitimate prosecutions," he added. Mr McGuinness also said last week's Inspectorate report clearly "vindicated" Sgt McCabe and his actions.

Mr Coveney, who is representing Ireland in Australia this weekend, told the Sunday Independent: "It is important that Government would send out a very strong message that we want to encourage whistleblowers to speak out.

"We have to put a credible system in place for the gardai and other sectors of the Irish State infrastructure, so that if people have complaints to make they should be facilitated in making those complaints and they should be supported and protected in doing that.

"That goes for the guards as well as other institutions of the State. We need structures and systems in place that facilitate that. That's why it's so important that we have a proper Garda Ombudsman's office that's functioning and working properly and is properly resourced and that we have a complaints system within the guards that works as well."

Last week's Inspectorate report was critical of the management of An Garda Siochana, and was generally accepted as having vindicated the stand taken by the whistleblowers.

Nevertheless, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, have all resisted public pressure to apologise to the whistleblowing gardai.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Kenny said the matters would "not have been addressed in the way they are, but for the fact they were brought to light by the whistleblowers".

Mr Callinan refused to withdraw his characterisation of the two garda whistleblowers as "disgusting", instead making a distinction only between the men and their allegations. He has also insisted on maintaining the ban on Sgt McCabe accessing the Pulse Garda computer system, which has considerable impact on his ability to do his duty.

Mr Shatter has also declined to row back on his accusation that the whistle-blowing gardai did not co-operate with an earlier inquiry.

Meanwhile, Sgt McCabe is understood to have not yet received an invitation from either the GSOC or the Guerin inquiries, currently under way.

GSOC has confirmed it will be in touch with Sgt McCabe and is anxious to speak to him, irrespective of whether or not it fits naturally into its line of inquiry.

When the results of these inquiries are published they are expected to put the minister and the Garda Commissioner under increased pressure.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins yesterday reiterated his belief that Mr Shatter's position is untenable, but said Mr Callinan's position was a matter for the Government.

Sgt McCabe is preparing an extensive dossier of more than 200 cases of alleged garda malpractice for the government-appointed investigator, barrister Sean Guerin.

It is understood that Sgt McCabe is "frustrated" that he has not yet been contacted by Mr Guerin, despite his appointment three weeks ago to investigate "serious allegations" of garda negligence, which were highlighted by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

The file that will be given to Mr Guerin by Sgt McCabe is an expanded version of the dossier of 12 cases he presented to Mr Martin.

The dossier contains scores of claims that serious crimes were not properly investigated between 2007 and 2009.

One of the cases relates to the killer of 33-year-old Silvia Roche Kelly in the Clarion Hotel in Limerick in December 2007. Jerry McGrath, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, was jailed for life for her murder in 2009. At the time he had been on bail after being charged with attempting to abduct a five-year-old girl from her bedroom, and months before that had been charged with assaulting a female taxi driver in Co Meath.

Mr Guerin yesterday said he was not dealing with media queries.

Despite last week's vindication of his actions, Sgt McCabe remains subject to severe restrictions in his duties.

After it emerged that he was the whistleblower, Sergeant McCabe was directed that he could only use Pulse under supervision from another officer. Each time he must state the precise reason for accessing it.

A garda spokesman yesterday said that the "status quo" in relation to Sergeant McCabe's restricted status remains unchanged.

Sunday Independent

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