Tuesday, January 24, 2017
How eager is the commissioner to hear from whistleblowers?
Garda whistleblower Supt David Taylor, who made protected disclosures alleging a campaign to discredit another whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Why are four garda whistleblowers out sick? Why has Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan not contacted any of them, to reassure them that she is concerned for their welfare, and wants to acknowledge their courage?
Is the long-term suspension of Supt David Taylor any way proportionate to an unproven allegation against him?
O’Sullivan was not asked these questions in her first detailed broadcast interview yesterday on RTÉ Radio One, and with good reason. Presenter Sean O’Rourke put the commissioner through her paces. His job is to extract information, and he knows little would be forthcoming from such questions.
The response from the commissioner would have been that she can’t comment on individual cases. However, the plight of the whistleblowers – including Taylor, who last September made a protected disclosure – is in sharp contrast to the public utterances of the commissioner.
When the subject was broached by O’Rourke, the commissioner gave her standard reply. She spoke of her first public outing as acting commissioner in 2014 when she said, “it takes great courage to speak up and challenge the way things are done,” and since that day, as far as she’s concerned, “constructive dissent is much better than destructive consent”.
Apart from that she emphasised that she had never been part of or “privy” to any campaign to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe.
O’Rourke pressed her on the word “privy”, which she has used a number of times in this regard, and she clarified that she had no knowledge of any campaign.
She was also asked about the comment by her predecessor, Martin Callinan, at a 2014 Public Accounts Meeting that the actions of McCabe and former garda John Wilson were “disgusting”.
The remark, O’Sullivan said, was “taken out of context”. She did not elaborate on how this was so, or what context should have applied, but it was all a long time ago, and she is an adept media performer.
What cannot be reconciled is the commissioner’s public utterances, like those she made yesterday, and the experience of the whistleblowers whom she is so eager to hear from.
Four garda whistleblowers are all out on sick leave. In each case their current status is associated with their use of the whistleblower charter in making a protected disclosure. All are on reduced pay, and living in a form of professional limbo weighted with stress and worry.
The commissioner has not picked up the phone to any of them to offer her support for their “constructive dissent”, or to inquire how she could set anything in motion that might see them restored to the workplace.
Doing so might not just bring solace to the members in question, but would reassure others who might be inclined to call out malpractice that her soothing words are backed up by action.
The case of McCabe is particularly illustrative. In May of last year, it emerged that there may have been an attempt at the O’Higgins Inquiry by counsel acting for the commissioner to discredit McCabe. The issue was only resolved when McCabe produced a tape recording of a disputed meeting which vindicated him.
O’Sullivan has stated that she was not privy to any attempt to discredit McCabe. Yet, she did not lift the phone to say, “Maurice, there has been a terrible misunderstanding. As I’ve said so often, I’m 100% behind you. I’m mortified that this misunderstanding has arisen.”
She did not contact him at all, which is difficult to reconcile with her eagerness to hear constructive dissent, particularly as McCabe’s claims have been shown to be accurate and that he, according to Judge O’Higgins, had rendered a service to the force and wider society.
The case of Supt David Taylor is more complicated. Taylor made a protected disclosure last September in which he alleged that when he was at the Garda press office in 2013 and 2014 he had been part of an attempt to discredit McCabe.
He claims he was following orders and that the current commissioner — who was then Martin Callinan’s deputy — was aware of the campaign. That disclosure was examined in a scoping inquiry by judge Iarlaigh O’Neill, and is currently being examined by the minister for justice. The commissioner has said she was not aware of any campaign to discredit McCabe.
Taylor’s disclosure came after he had been suspended for more than two years over an allegation that he released the names of two children to the media in his role as press officer.
What has perplexed many within the force is the severity of the sanction imposed on him relative to the allegation. The criminal investigation over the allegation is being led by O’Sullivan’s husband, chief superintendent Jim McGowan. Apart from that Taylor has also been the subject of an internal disciplinary investigation into his career.
Taylor is now among the ranks of the whistleblowers, highlighting alleged malpractice, and in his case even implicating himself.
The commissioner has not contacted him to either commend him on his courage, or inquire as to his welfare.