Saturday 17 March 2018

Ministerial split widens over O'Higgins row

Now McGrath fails to back Commissioner

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Justice Minister
Frances Fitzgerald.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn and Niall O'Connor

A government split over the O'Higgins Report controversy is deepening as another Independent Alliance Minister has failed to express confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Finian McGrath joined his Independent colleague and fellow minister John Halligan in declining to back the Garda chief.

He said that the fallout from the O'Higgins report into garda malpractice was "overshadowing" the work of the gardaí and that there are "serious questions to be answered". Ms O'Sullivan "needs to clarify the situation as soon as possible," he added.

The Commissioner is under mounting pressure to clarify the instructions given to her legal team at the O'Higgins investigation.

Mr McGrath's and Mr Halligan's failure to back Ms O'Sullivan puts them at odds with their Fine Gael colleagues in Government who have said that the Commissioner has their support.

Meanwhile, Ms O'Sullivan once again declined last night to offer any further statement on the instructions given to her legal team to question the credibility of the whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

A Fine Gael ministerial source said the Government just wanted the storm over the issue "to go away", adding: "The last thing we need is another scandal surrounding justice. We want this to go away. It's a political hot potato."

The Irish Independent last night asked a series of ministers if they had confidence in Ms O'Sullivan and if they wanted to see her make a further statement on the O'Higgins report.

Unlike the Fine Gael ministers who replied, Mr McGrath fell short of expressing confidence, saying: "The facts have not yet been clearly established and it would be premature of me to draw any final conclusion.

"I think there are serious questions to be answered in relation to the O'Higgins report and the Garda Commissioner needs to clarify the situation as soon as possible."

Mr McGrath said that his experience of working with Ms O'Sullivan at the Oireachtas justice committee was "always constructive and positive".

However, he continued: "I believe the ongoing controversy is overshadowing the work of An Garda Síochána, particularly in relation to gangland crime and intimidation in some communities."

He said he had the "utmost confidence" in Sgt McCabe, whose allegations of garda malpractice led to the investigation by Judge Kevin O'Higgins.

The remarks by Mr McGrath follow those of Mr Halligan, who also failed to express confidence in Ms O'Sullivan pending further clarification from her.

Another Independent Alliance TD, Transport Minister Shane Ross, did not respond to the Irish Independent's survey of ministers.

However, Fine Gael's Simon Coveney, Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkar, Michael Creed, Heather Humphreys and Independent Katherine Zappone all released statements insisting that Ms O'Sullivan had the confidence of the Government.

One of the statements, from Mr Bruton, said the Commissioner had "shown real leadership in leading the force" amid "the challenges it must face day in, day out to keep our communities safe".

On the question of Ms O'Sullivan further clarifying her instructions, Mr Bruton's spokesperson said that "there are very real and difficult legal issues involved" in commenting on evidence heard.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is in ongoing contact with Ms O'Sullivan "with a view to seeing if it is feasible to put any more information into the public domain".

Ms Fitzgerald will "fully inform" the Dáil of the outcome of those contacts in a debate next week, the statements added.

A spokeswoman for Independent minister Denis Naughten said: "Of course, the Garda Commissioner has the confidence of the Government."

Asked if Ms O'Sullivan would be commenting, a garda spokeswoman referred to a statement from Monday, where Ms O'Sullivan said she accepted the O'Higgins report and "never regarded Sgt McCabe as malicious".

  • In an article in yesterday's Irish Independent, headlined 'Lawyers urgently seek way for Garda chief to issue clarification without breaking law', it was stated that Mr Seán Gillane had acted as senior counsel for the Garda Commissioner. This was not the case. We are happy to clarify this.

Irish Independent

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