Saturday 17 February 2018

Watchdog piles pressure on Garda chief to step aside during inquiry

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan (right) and Josephine Feehily, chairperson of the
Policing Authority. Photo: Damien Eagers
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan (right) and Josephine Feehily, chairperson of the Policing Authority. Photo: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has come under renewed pressure to step aside for the duration of the Charleton tribunal into alleged mistreatment of Garda whistleblowers.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin called for her to stand aside temporarily, and questioned how she would be able to juggle running the force with also having to deal with the tribunal.

His comments came after Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily raised concerns about the commissioner's ability to fulfil her role while the inquiry is underway.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton will open the tribunal on Monday with a statement outlining his plans for how it will be conducted.

TV and stills cameras will be allowed into a tribunal for the first time, as the judge is expected to indicate how soon public hearings will begin.

One observer in Government circles said the Supreme Court judge had been moving "at a rate of knots" to establish the tribunal's structures and secure counsel to work on its behalf, fuelling expectations that hearings will begin shortly.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald refused to be drawn into the debate about the commissioner last night. Mrs Fitzgerald has previously backed Ms O'Sullivan to remain in place, citing the need for due process and fair procedures. Her spokesman said it would not be appropriate to comment on any remarks made by a member of the Policing Authority.

Ms O'Sullivan's position came under the spotlight again after Ms Feehily said there were concerns the commissioner's focus on policing matters might be distracted by the tribunal.

She also said the authority was concerned "the motivation, the morale, the energy of the organisation might be distracted".

The public inquiry is set to investigate whether a smear campaign was orchestrated by senior gardaí against whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Former Garda press officer Superintendent David Taylor claimed in a protected disclosure there was an orchestrated campaign to discredit Sgt McCabe and that Ms O'Sullivan was aware of it.

But the commissioner has insisted she was not aware of any such campaign. She has also rejected suggestions she should step aside either permanently or temporarily.

However, Ms Feehily stopped short of expressing full confidence that the commissioner could handle the twin challenges of running the force and dealing with the tribunal.

"I would say we have a degree of confidence, but we are concerned," said Ms Feehily in an interview on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' programme.

"I am not saying that is a deep concern at this point. The tribunal has not begun.

"We have flagged that concern to the commissioner. We asked that question in public.

"I think it remains to be seen whether the accelerator can be kept to the floor in policing and in modernising the organisation while servicing the tribunal."

Read More: Commissioner's leadership to remain a live issue during tribunal

Ms Feehily said she would have to see what happens if events at the tribunal increase those concerns.

She said the authority was confident in terms of the commissioner and her senior team's capacity to run the force.

But the parallel running of a very complex organisation while servicing the tribunal was a different matter, she said.

"Until that starts to play out, I'm just saying we don't know," said Ms Feehily.

Ms O'Sullivan gave assurances to the Policing Authority on Thursday that she had put a team in place to meet the needs of the tribunal.

She said she did not expect the inquiry to distract from a reform programme currently underway.

Ms Feehily said the authority did not support calls for the commissioner to step aside, saying she was entitled to "fair procedure".

"It is a matter of everybody, whether in this organisation or any organisation, being entitled to their good name and being entitled to have their side heard," she said.

Irish Independent

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