Garda chief denies McCabe claims
Garda chief Noirin O'Sullivan has denied a high-profile whistleblower who exposed scandals that have rocked the force is still being mistreated.
The acting Garda commissioner said top brass were in constant contact with Sergeant Maurice McCabe to offer him support and that she had personally ordered an assistant commissioner to go and meet him.
A number of TDs have complained the Mullingar-based officer continues to be harassed by colleagues for uncovering wrongdoing within the force.
Pressed about the claims before a parliamentary committee, Ms O'Sullivan said: "That's not my understanding."
Sinn Fein justice spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn said he spoke personally with Sgt McCabe today and was "deeply disturbed" that he remains isolated and cannot return to work.
Independent TD Finian McGrath told the same hearing of the Oireachtas Justice Committee that he has been informed that no officer has spoken with Sgt McCabe or offered him support.
But Ms O'Sullivan said local Garda bosses were in "constant contact" with the officer to offer him backing and welfare services.
The Garda chief said she had also tasked the interim confidential recipient - a watchdog dealing with internal complaints - with getting in touch with Sgt McCabe's lawyers to determine what specific issues he was experiencing.
The parliamentary committee is holding hearings into an overhaul of laws governing the force.
Ms O'Sullivan said whistleblowers are free to raise concerns about alleged malpractice within its ranks. "They are not a problem, they are actually a catalyst for change," she added.
Questioned about tensions between the Garda and its official watchdog, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), she said oversight bosses were "happy" the relationship was improving.
The top-ranking officer also criticised the practice of serving gardai working within the watchdog, suggesting it would be preferable if it sought expertise from retired or former members of the force.
Nuala O'Loan, Northern Ireland's first Police Ombudsman, told the hearing a ban on probing complaints against the Garda Commissioner would not happen anywhere else.
"GSOC can't currently investigate allegations or complaints against the Garda Commissioner... I don't know of any other similar organisation where this is the case," she said.
"It's not sustainable if GSOC is to be perceived as effective.
"There will always be a suspicion that accountability is okay for junior officers but the chief has to be protected."
Ms O'Sullivan agreed that GSOC should be free to investigate even the most senior officer on the force.
Urging more powers for the watchdog, Ms O'Loan said it should be allowed to investigate every complaint brought to its attention, rather than referring some back to the force itself, and should be given full access to evidence where requested.
The power of the Garda Commissioner or the Justice Minister to withhold evidence could lead to the perception of a cover-up, she told TDs and senators.
Provision for the prosecution of anyone who makes a misleading complaint against a member of the force was also a disproportionate measure which could dissuade people from coming forward with evidence of wrongdoing, she added.
Ms O'Sullivan said a "reform and renewal" programme was already under way within the Garda.
"We are at a defining moment in the history of our policing service," she said.
The Garda chief added that an independent police authority which is to be set up will help reinforce public trust in the force.
"Frankly right now that reinforcement is necessary," she said.
Also appearing before the hearing, journalism lecturer Ronan Brady accused the Garda Press Office of acting as a "bulwark against openness".
He added: "And frankly that's what most journalists feel about it."
Mr Brady said the Garda Press Office was seen universally as a problem and a body set up to prevent information being distributed.
The lecturer said authorities have fostered an antagonism against openness in the force at a time when "more forward-looking police leaders" were embracing right-to-know freedom of information laws.
More openness and transparency would have made recent scandals less likely, he said.