Sunday 25 February 2018

PAC split on whether to release evidence by garda whistleblower

Independent TD Shane Ross
Independent TD Shane Ross

Daniel McConnell Political Correspondent

A major row over how to handle private evidence from Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe has divided the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Opposition members of the committee - Shane Ross, Mary Lou McDonald and Sean Fleming - led calls for a transcript of Garda McCabe's evidence to a previous session of PAC to be releaesed.

This was met by staunch opposition from Government members of the committee who are opposed to releasing the transcript.

Such was the row, the committee was forced into private session in order to hear legal advice from senior Oireachtas officials. "We have entered uncharted territory, it is very messy," one PAC member said afterwards.

At the private meeting this afternoon, members of the committee agreed to refer the issue of whether or not to release the transcript to McCabe to the Dáil’s Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) for “immediate” decision.

During a lengthy discussion on the recent meeting where Sgt McCabe gave evidence in private, there were calls from members Shane Ross, Mary Lou McDonald and Sean Fleming for the document to be released to him.

"Members of the committee are too worried about protecting the whistleblower. He is a big boy," Mr Fleming said.

Ms McDonald said a previous decision by the committee to withhold the transcript at a meeting in which she was absent was "absolutely absurd."

She said that decision was "a political decision" which was  "not consistent with our standard practice" of acting on a non-partisan basis.

"I would like this decision revisited today and the transcript should be released," she said.

Several Government TDs on the committee including John Deasy, Eoghan Murphy and Derek Nolan said they were vehemently opposed to releasing the document.

"Nothing in this transcript will change the world, we have to protect whistleblowers and we don't do that by releasing the transcript," Mr Murphy said.

However, committee members were told they could listen to a copy of the tape of the private meeting if they wanted to.

The clerk of the committee, Ted McEnery, told the committee he was told by Oireachtas authorities and legal advisors that releasing the document could set a "dangerous precedent."

Mr Ross rejected such concerns saying that if the transcript was withheld it would undermine the credibility of the committee.

After calls from Mr Ross and Ms McDonald for a vote on the matter, which is highly irregular, it was agreed that committee chairman John McGuinness will meet with the acting Clerk of the Dail this afternoon in order to obtain guidance as to whether the transcript can be released.

Mr McGuinness said he would seek clarity immediately as to the exact status of the transcript and Sgt McCabe's legal right to receive a copy of his evidence. The committee received a letter from Sgt McCabe's lawyer last week seeking a copy of the transcript.

It also emerged that embattled Rehab bosses have been called to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) within the next two weeks in address concerns about financial matters at the charity.

Irish Independent

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