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Paul Williams: Commissioner O'Sullivan left facing further questions over Garda phonecalls controversy


Noirin O'Sullivan

Noirin O'Sullivan

Noirin O'Sullivan

Amid the controversy following the publication of the Fennelly Commission report, one central figure initially escaped scrutiny.

But Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, already under pressure over her response to the IRA crisis, is now difficult facing questions of another kind.

Mr Justice Nial Fennelly found that in her role as deputy commissioner, she did not inform her then-boss Martin Callinan of the full details of the incipient phone recordings controversy.

But both serving and former senior ranking gardaí told the Irish Independent that the responsibility for reporting such issues to the Commissioner lay with Ms O'Sullivan.

"If a similar situation arose today then Nóirín O'Sullivan would not stand for it - it is the role of deputy ops (sic) to report these issues," remarked one officer with extensive experience of the higher management of the force.

The issue of when the former Commissioner became aware of the complexity and seriousness of the phone recordings fiasco has also been raised in the Fennelly Commission report.

Specifically, the Commission posed the important question as to why neither Ms O'Sullivan or her civilian counterpart, Chief Administrative Officer Cyril Dunne, did not brief Callinan of the situation for three months.

The report states: "In this instance, it appears that each was of the view that responsibility for briefing the Commissioner on the recordings issue as it developed, lay with the other."

This important detail regarding a critical lapse in the force's internal communications was initially lost amid the political din unleashed by the Opposition to attack Enda Kenny and the Attorney General. But time has allowed for further analysis of the report.


The officer with ultimate responsibility for all issues relating to the interception of telephone calls, intelligence and security issues lies with the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations - Ms O'Sullivan. Therefore, according to the same sources, it was her job to fully brief Callinan as to the potentially incendiary effects of the widespread phone recordings being made public.

It appears that she was the most senior ranking officer to be informed of the startling discovery that phonecalls to stations were being routinely recorded.

Both senior gardaí and sources close to the Government last night said the lack of information left Callinan in a situation where he lacked crucial information while briefing the Attorney General.

The proverbial effluent hit the fan six months later when the AG excitedly informed the Taoiseach that there may have been widespread illegal practices going on in the Garda.

As a result, the gardaí were thrown into crisis with Callinan being given no alternative but to go, and Ms O'Sullivan elevated on an interim basis to the top job for eight months before being made permanent.

In fairness, it also raises further questions for Mr Callinan with regard to how he communicated with his deputy at the time.

Despite the best wishes of all the protagonists involved in this sorry mess, these are issues which will not be going away anytime soon.

Irish Independent