Wednesday 24 January 2018

Whistleblowers will not cooperate while Garda chief remains in place

Garda Commissioner Nóírín O’Sullivan. Photo: Frank McGrath
Garda Commissioner Nóírín O’Sullivan. Photo: Frank McGrath

Niall O'Connor, Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

The two whistleblowers at the centre of the latest Garda controversy will refuse to cooperate with Taoiseach Enda Kenny's inquiry unless Garda Commissioner Nóírín O'Sullivan temporarily steps aside, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Both An Garda Síochána and the Government have been left reeling following serious allegations of a smear campaign and character assassination bid by senior Garda management against a serving officer.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is in the eye of the storm. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is in the eye of the storm. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The allegations were made under protected disclosure to Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who once again finds herself in the eye of the storm.

In the disclosure, a senior officer claimed he was authorised by superiors to send hundreds of text messages to politicians, members of the media and gardaí alleging gross misconduct by the whistleblower.

The allegations, sources say, were aimed at compromising the whistleblower, who had made serious claims about practices within the force.

During a dramatic day, the Taoiseach signalled a judge-led inquiry into the allegations before expressing confidence in both the minister and Garda chief. But the Irish Independent can reveal both whistleblowers at the centre of the controversy will refuse to cooperate with the inquiry, unless Ms O'Sullivan, pictured below, temporarily steps aside. The two whistleblowers, who are serving officers, have met to discuss the allegations against senior management.

Any refusal to take part in the inquiry announced by Mr Kenny is likely to render it defunct.

It is understood the Department of Justice has sought a raft of files relating to the claims be forwarded to the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.

In the Dáil yesterday, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald claimed the Tánaiste had sat on whistleblower complaints for months without responding.

A Sinn Féin spokesman later said she was referring to the cases of two more whistleblowers that were featured on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'.

Ms Fitzgerald's spokesman said he couldn't comment on an individual case, but that: "Any such disclosures are taken very seriously and dealt with as expeditiously as possible."

Ms McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he had confidence in Ms Fitzgerald and Ms O'Sullivan.

Mr Kenny said he has "absolute confidence in the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner", adding: "I don't have any reason not to."

He said he has not seen correspondence that Ms Fitzgerald has received, "nor should I have because it was sent to her under that Act [Protected Disclosures Act].

"I assume the information contained therein needs to be examined and needs to be reflected upon very carefully because it is very serious," Mr Kenny said. He added that, ultimately, a judge may be appointed to look into the claims.

Meanwhile, Ms O'Sullivan insisted she was "not privy to nor approved of" any action targeting any Garda employee making a protected disclosure.

She would "condemn any such action" and reiterated her stance that any employee's concerns "will be taken seriously and the matters examined".

Earlier, Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed the Garda "hierarchy" was "dysfunctional" and said the latest whistleblower allegations were "pretty frightening".

Ms Fitzgerald said she couldn't go into detail on the two protected disclosures for reasons of confidentiality.

She said that she is assessing them "very carefully".

She promised to consider the matter "in a way that protects the whistleblowers and that is fair and is seen to deliver justice to all".

Independent TD Clare Daly said the Taoiseach made similar expressions of confidence in the previous justice minister and commissioner "before it went to zero overnight".

Irish Independent

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