Tribunal judge raps TDs over handling of claims
TWO senior politicians were strongly criticised by the Morris tribunal yesterday for their role in handling anonymous allegations against two senior gardai.
The rebuke is contained in the final report of the tribunal on alleged garda corruption in county Donegal.
The allegations were made against two assistant garda commissioners at the time, Kevin Carty and Tony Hickey.
Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins, who was his party's justice spokesman at the time, and then Labour justice spokesman Brendan Howlin received the anonymous claims from Frank McBrearty, senior, and his senior counsel, Martin Giblin, respectively.
The accusations, which centred on perjury, blackmail and planting evidence to frame innocent people, were found by the tribunal to be totally untrue.
Mr Justice Frederick Morris acknowledged it could sometimes be difficult for members of the Dail or Seanad to assess the veracity or authenticity of allegations made anonymously.
But he said the two TDs should have made a more serious and searching inquiry about the claims.
The tribunal recommended that the Dail Committee on Privilege and Procedures should urgently review the manner in which members dealt with allegations brought to their attention anonymously by so-called "whistleblowers".
He noted that Mr Higgins was satisfied that the document had emanated from former garda PJ Togher, through Mr McBrearty.
Mr Howlin had been told by Mr Giblin that the information emanated from a garda in Donegal.
"The damage that can be wrought to the reputations of people falsely accused by persons peddling false stories to TDs or members of the Seanad, directly or through others, can be quite devastating for them.
"This is an area of such public importance that it should be addressed as a matter of urgency by both Houses of the Oireachtas with a view to ensuring that an appropriate balance between the right of access of a 'whistleblower' to his/her public representative and the right of those subject to such allegations to be fairly treated," Mr Justice Morris said.
He added that those people should not be the subject of unfounded allegations that had been endowed with undeserved legitimacy because they were conveyed cynically and successfully to well-meaning members of the Dail.
He noted that the standard of responsibility of a public representative could not only be to receive information and pass it on to the relevant minister in the expectation the minister would act on the information.
"Serious allegations of the kind made in this case require some further exploration and inquiry before further steps are taken," he advised. Little was done to explore the reality behind the allegations and, at the very least, Mr Higgins should have insisted on a meeting with Mr Togher and Mr McBrearty while Mr Howlin should have pressed Mr Giblin for further detail and evidence.
Instead, those allegations were given a standing and authority beyond that which was justified on the material available when the two politicians could have said they were not going to make wild allegations about senior gardai, putting them under a cloud of suspicion, without something more than a fax or late night phone call.
The tribunal also found that Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, who was then an assistant commissioner in charge of human resources, had acted correctly in transferring Det Sgt John White from Donegal to Dublin, in lieu of suspension, within the disciplinary process.
Mr Higgins said last night he disagreed with the tribunal findings that he and Mr Howlin had acted irresponsibly.
"We jointly decided that rather than going into the Dail and airing the matter publicly under Dail privilege, the proper course of action was to bring the material privately to the attention of then Justice Minister John O'Donoghue," he added.
Mr Howlin said that were it not for the action taken by him and Mr Higgins, the Morris tribunal would never have been established and the saga of corruption, abuse and mismanagement that we now know about would never have been uncovered.