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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cloud set to grow darker over gardaí

A SMALL step is expected to be made today in accessing the truth of how An Garda Síochána deals with whistleblowers.

The High Court is scheduled to hear an application by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) for access to transcripts from the O’Higgins commission, which investigated malpractice in the gardaí. The transcripts are believed to hold the key as to whether there was an attempt to discredit whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Last May, following publication of the O’Higgins report, the Irish Examiner revealed there had been an attempt to suggest McCabe had been acting out of a grudge when he blew the whistle on Garda malpractice. If accepted by the commission chair, Judge Kevin O’Higgins, this would have dealt a major blow to McCabe’s credibility, and his claims of malpractice. The suggestion came from counsel acting for the Garda commissioner.

It was comprehensively refuted when McCabe produced a recording of a meeting. Thereafter the suggestion that his motives were impure was never revisited, and the matter did not feature in Judge O’Higgins’ report.
Following the story published in the Irish Examiner, commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan came under scrutiny, and denied she had ever called McCabe’s motives into question. In order to clear up the matter, she requested Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to ask Gsoc to investigate the whole issue.

The gardaí and the department refused to hand over transcripts from O’Higgins to Gsoc as both said they were precluded by law from doing so. Having asked Gsoc to investigate, they were effectively tying the hands of the ombudsman body.
Gsoc applied to the High Court to gain access, and it now appears opposition from both the department and the gardaí has been dropped. The High Court is expected to today grant the application for access to the transcripts. This will allow Gsoc to conduct a proper investigation, but form suggests it will be anything up to two years before a final result emerges.
Meanwhile, there is still no sign of white smoke from the department on a separate scoping inquiry into whether there was a widespread and concerted campaign in Garda headquarters to blacken McCabe’s name.

Judge Iarlaith O’Neill delivered his report on December 7. It was initiated on foot of two protected disclosures, from McCabe, and the former head of the Garda press office, David Taylor.
Taylor is understood to have disclosed that in his former role he was instructed to disseminate scurrilous information to reporters in order to discredit McCabe. He also alleged that this campaign was conducted and sanctioned by senior management, including Nóirín O’Sullivan, who has vehemently denied it. Another prong to the allegations is that politicians were also furnished with untruths about McCabe’s record in the force.
Taylor’s disclosure is a new departure as he is effectively incriminating himself in a campaign of black propaganda.

The Irish Examiner understands that Judge O’Neill has recommended to the justice minister that a more comprehensive inquiry is required. That would most likely involve a statutory commission of investigation.
A question remains as to why O’Neill’s report has not either been published or a decision taken that it cannot be published. Over a month on from receipt of the report, there is no reason why one of these courses has not materialised, opening the way for the more comprehensive inquiry to begin. A spokesman for the Department of Justice said there is no update on the status of the O’Neill report.
While the plethora of reports and controversies around the gardaí and whistleblowers can get confusing, the issue that is currently under consideration is vital to the future development of the police force.

If senior management attempted to bury McCabe, as alleged, then it’s difficult to see how anybody involved could continue in their role. Senior management, both during the tenure of O’Sullivan and that of her predecessor, Martin Callinan, repeatedly stated that whistleblowers were integral to making improvements and eliminating wrongdoing in the force.

If the allegations were proven that management was actually involved in a campaign of black propaganda against McCabe then major reform would be required. Equally, if it were to emerge that the force’s political masters were being fed untruths about a turbulent cop, it would completely change the dynamics of that vital relationship.
As such it is difficult to understand why there is not more urgency from the department in dealing with this matter.

Nóirín O’Sullivan was heralded as somebody who would sweep away the negative aspects of Garda culture that came to the fore in recent years.

Instead, a cloud now hangs over the force. It is certainly not a time to be kicking cans down the road.

Michael Clifford