TD will not face any further action for abusing garda
Fine Gael TD PJ Sheehan repeatedly poked a female garda in the chest while threatening to end her career and refusing to leave his car though he was clearly intoxicated, according to garda sources.
Garda Ciara McDermott, from Pearse Street garda station, stopped Deputy Sheehan from driving out of the car park of Dail Eireann on to Merrion Street, and thereby posing a danger to the public by ordering the security guard to keep the gate closed.
Gardai were said to have been alarmed that no action was taken in the case. Garda McDermott, in her early 30s and from the Midlands, is highly thought of among her colleagues and described as dedicated and conscientious. She is said to have been deeply upset at the apparent threat to end her career. Garda McDermott succeeded in stopping Deputy Sheehan from driving out of the car park.
Gardai also said they believed the Cork South-West deputy had contravened a number of laws, particularly that of wilful obstruction which carries a term of imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of €2,500 if dealt with at District Court level.
Poking a garda in the chest constitutes assault, albeit a minor one. This is still regarded as serious in the sense that it is a physical challenge to the authority of an officer of the law.
In cases where a female garda is assaulted by a male, according to sources, this always leads to an arrest and a file being prepared and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The punishment at District Court level for assaulting a garda is up to 12 months' imprisonment and a fine of up to €5,000. If it proceeds to the Circuit Court the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment.
Asked if a file had gone or was going to the DPP, the Garda Press Office yesterday said: "The matter was dealt with by the local superintendent and there is no further investigation."
This suggests the matter might not have received the attention of the most senior officer in Pearse Street station at the time, Chief Superintendent John Twomey, who has since been promoted to Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Traffic Corps.
The Garda Representative Association made no comment and did not return calls last week.
The Garda Ombudsman, whose job is to ensure proper procedures are adhered to and to root out corruption in the gardai, is also not investigating the matter.
Despite speculation that Deputy Sheehan might be protected under Dail privilege for the alleged assault and obstruction of Garda McDermott, this is not the case according to senior garda sources. While she did prevent him from leaving the car park because she believed he posed a danger to the public, the constitutional provision protecting TDs and senators going to and from the Dail does not extend to any protections over obstructing an officer of the law in the course of his or her duty, or of assault.
The provision states: "The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall, except in case of treason as defined in this Constitution, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest in going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of, either House, and shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself."
It has been invoked on a small number of occasions by drunk Oireachtas members.
This article was invoked at the time of the formation of the State and was designed to ensure that TDs and senators were not prevented from attending at times of crisis such as in the Civil War.
Also the issue of whether or not the alleged assault took place inside the precincts of the Dail does not arise. The Dail car park is, as a state-owned property, owned by the people of Ireland, in the opinion of senior gardai.
Sheehan's behaviour towards Garda McDermott is reminiscent of the incident in Co Roscommon, in 1982, when a conscientious garda sergeant was suddenly transferred at the behest of the then Justice Minister and local TD Sean Doherty for trying to impose closing hours on local pubs.
Sgt Tom Tully's career was effectively ended by Mr Doherty's action. That scandal was also exposed in the Sunday Independent.
The incident in the Dail car park also follows on from the Trevor Sargent episode last February where he was forced to resign after he admitted that he had illegally attempted to interfere in a garda investigation into an alleged assault involving one of his constituents. There are currently no protections for any garda or public servant who legitimately attempts to expose corruption.
No sanction appears to be under consideration against deputy Sheehan and Fine Gael seem content with the fact he apologised and resigned his position as deputy agriculture spokesman.