High drama in Dáil as Labour leader lays out staggering claims against Garda chief
Commissioner stays as Supreme Court judge set to untangle allegations
Brendan Howlin is a man who rarely uses one word when he can use three dozen. But this time the Labour leader was almost concise, and markedly choosy about his words, as he put the spotlight on the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, and turned it up to full glare.
All the Leinster House inmates were waiting on details of another big investigation into alleged Garda wrongdoing when the former Public Expenditure Minister stood up in the Dáil. No great surprise that he argued trenchantly for Commissioner O'Sullivan to stand aside pending the investigation findings.
But then Mr Howlin dropped the bombshell: he said a journalist alleged to him that very morning that the Garda Commissioner had, back in 2013 and 2014, made very serious allegations to a number of journalists about "sexual crimes" by the Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. He said that in 2015 Commissioner O'Sullivan was herself investigating another garda for alleged leaks to journalists.
It is important to note that Commissioner O'Sullivan has several times denied that she ever did any such thing and stressed that she had no knowledge of others doing such things.
But, unusually with an investigation in the matter not even started, she issued a statement repeating that her position had definitely not changed.
"The commissioner has no knowledge of the matters referred to by Deputy Howlin and refutes in the strongest terms the suggestion that she has engaged in the conduct alleged against a serving member of An Garda Síochána," Ms O'Sullivan said in her statement.
Soon after the Garda Commissioner's statement was published, Mr Howlin made it clear he was standing by what he had said in the Dáil.
In fact, the commissioner's riposte appeared to embolden him.
"The Garda Commissioner heads a policing service charged with protecting the security of the State, preventing crime and vindicating the human rights of each individual," the Labour leader said.
Citing the terms of reference, he listed some of the serious allegations she faces.
This Dáil drama was a major subset of the ongoing controversy surrounding Garda whistleblowers generally - and Sgt Maurice McCabe in particular.
Supreme Court Judge Peter Charleton has now been given extensive terms of reference to examine allegations that senior gardaí engaged in a campaign of vilification against Sgt McCabe at a time when he was trying to raise many instances of alleged garda wrongdoing.
Privately, some TDs and senators were critical of Mr Howlin for overstepping the mark with his use of Dáil privilege.
It was also notable that he had insisted that he was not "making allegations" against the commissioner.
But this is a flavour of what Brendan Howlin had to say: "This morning a journalist contacted me and told me they had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014, in the course of which the com-missioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe.
"In 2015, the Garda Commissioner oversaw the investigation which examined the call logs of a garda who was under suspicion of leaking material to the media.
"If it were a fact that the Garda Commissioner was in direct contact with the media making allegations against one of her officers at around the same time, it would be extraordinary.
"I do not know whether the charges being made against the Garda Commissioner are true," Mr Howlin said.
Last night, Mr Howlin added that the unnamed journalist who contacted him had not been directly contacted by Commissioner O'Sullivan, back when she was allegedly making the allegations against Sgt McCabe.
The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, warned everyone of the long-standing Dáil ban on making allegations about named people who are not in the House.
Invoking an Irish saying about unreliable third-hand information, the Dáil chairman added: "You have just recounted a 'dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi' story, relating to a journalist contacting you and referencing the Garda Commissioner. Such a statement is not appropriate," the Dáil chairman said.
It is a refrain we have heard before - and we expect to hear again.
Mr Howlin recalled that in the past, he had ended up before the High and Supreme Courts, after he relayed another case of allegations of garda misconduct to the then-justice minister.
He had been told by both courts that he should have first raised those issues in the Dáil.
That was a reference to the saga concerning the McBrearty family in Donegal which dated back to 1996, but came to Mr Howlin and others in 2000.
It culminated in the Morris Tribunal findings in 2008 which severely criticised some serious garda misconduct.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny was emphatic that there was not even the basis for charges against anyone in this case.
There were just two conflicting sets of allegations, vehemently denied by each side.
Mr Kenny said the retired High Court Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill could not decide upon these allegations in his ground-clearing report, which paved the way for the full inquiry under the Supreme Court Judge Peter Charleton.
But the Taoiseach insisted Commissioner O'Sullivan would not be standing aside.
"As I have consistently stated on many occasions, there has been no finding of any wrongdoing of any kind against her and, in those circumstances, she is entitled to our full support, and that remains the position," he said.
Crucially, for now at very least, Fianna Fáil takes the same view. Their justice spokesman, Jim O'Callaghan, insisted there must be "due process" before any decisions can be taken.
Clearly, this could take time. Mr Justice Charleton has been given nine months.
Few believe this task can be finished in that time frame.