Thursday 22 February 2018

Senior ministers back Garda Commissioner on decision not to step aside

Support comes amid pressure to quit role during whistleblower tribunal

Nóirín O’Sullivan has come under mounting pressure to step aside whilst Mr Justice Peter Charleton conducts his tribunal. Photo: Mark Condren
Nóirín O’Sullivan has come under mounting pressure to step aside whilst Mr Justice Peter Charleton conducts his tribunal. Photo: Mark Condren
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Senior ministers last night backed Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan's decision not to stand aside during the duration of the Charleton tribunal into alleged mistreatment of Garda whistleblowers.

The two main contenders to replace Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader - Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar - both said Ms O'Sullivan shouldn't step aside, as did minister Richard Bruton.

It comes amid growing pressure on Ms O'Sullivan to temporarily vacate the role without prejudice while Mr Justice Peter Charleton conducts his inquiry, which he is opening today.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan confirmed to the previous O'Neill Inquiry that he had met TD John McGuinness in the days before whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe appeared at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

However, he has rejected accounts of the meeting contained in protected discloures.

The Charleton Tribunal will probe whether a smear campaign was orchestrated by senior gardaí against Mr McCabe.

It has been claimed Ms O'Sullivan was aware of the alleged campaign.

She has strongly denied this and rejected suggestions she should step aside either permanently or temporarily.

A spokeswoman for Mr Coveney said that he doesn't think she should step aside.

She said his view is that "the inquiry should get on with its work" and that "people are entitled to their good name unless facts prove otherwise".

Earlier, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said he agrees with Ms O'Sullivan's position.

"She is innocent until proven guilty," he said, adding that he dislikes "the idea because you're under suspicion or investigation you must therefore step aside."

But he added: "The only difficulty that she has to consider is will she be able to give her full attention to the job of commissioner while also having to deal with the Tribunal and attend it".

"Provided she is confident that she can give full attention to her job then she should stay in it," Mr Varadkar told RTÉ Radio.

Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily last week raised concerns about the commissioner's ability to fulfil her role while the inquiry is under way. Several opposition TDs have called for Ms O'Sullivan to step aside temporarily.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett suggested there was precedent for such a move even within agencies controlled by the Department of Justice. The department confirmed to him that there are 26 staff suspended from duty with full pay and Mr Boyd Barrett claimed it was a "very big contradiction" that Ms O'Sullivan would stay in place.

Minister Richard Bruton responded, saying "the argument is one of effectiveness" and that as of now, while monitoring the situation, the Policing Authority is satisfied with Ms O'Sullivan remaining in place.

He told 'The Week in Politics' it would be "unfair" that she would have to step aside while the work of the Tribunal is ongoing.

A Garda spokesman declined to comment on calls for Ms O'Sullivan to step aside. He referred to previous statements on the matter. Earlier this month Ms O'Sullivan said she won't be stepping aside "because I am innocent".

RTÉ last night reported that her predecessor Mr Callinan confirmed he met Fianna Fáil TD Mr McGuinness in a hotel car park ahead of a PAC meeting in 2014. Mr McGuinness first revealed the meeting in the Dáil alleging that Mr Callinan had told him that Sgt McCabe was not to be trusted.

Irish Independent

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