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Garda chief 'would break law by revealing legal exchanges over whistle-blower'

Published 17/05/2016

Noirin O'Sullivan was forced to deny she believed allegations of negligence and wrongdoing in policing were malicious
Noirin O'Sullivan was forced to deny she believed allegations of negligence and wrongdoing in policing were malicious

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said cultural change in the Garda will not happen overnight.

The Justice Minister said it would be very unusual to ask Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to answer claims she instructed her lawyers to tell an inquiry into bad policing that a whistle-blower was "motivated by malice".

The police chief was forced to deny she believed Sergeant Maurice McCabe's allegations of negligence and wrongdoing - the vast majority of which were proven - were malicious.

Ms Fitzgerald said she would be breaking the law if she revealed details of exchanges between lawyers at the O'Higgins Commission over how the force's top brass viewed the officer.

"I am satisfied that in the current situation that there is an understanding in An Garda Siochana of the need to support whistle-blowers from a welfare point of view, from an investigative point of view and in terms of how they are dealt with from a confidentiality point of view," the minister said.

"Of course, it takes a while to change culture and I don't expect that it will change overnight."

It is eight years since the Morris Tribunal's final reports exposed an unwritten code of omerta amid allegations of police corruption and two and a half years since the Smithwick inquiry ruled that some gardai prized loyalty over the truth.

Ms Fitzgerald said she believed there was an understanding at "management level" in the force of the need to comply with whistle-blower laws.

The minister noted that the allegations involving lawyers were included in the commission's final report.

Commissioner O'Sullivan broke her silence on Monday night amid deepening political pressure over allegations that her lawyers launched an attack on Sgt McCabe during private hearings in the O'Higgins Commission after she supported him in public.

Jonathan O'Brien, Sinn Fein justice spokesman, said the commissioner had clarified nothing despite facing allegations about her lawyers' actions.

"If that is the case then, in my opinion, it calls into question her credibility because if she is saying one thing in public and another thing in private to her legal then there is an issue," he said.

Mr O'Brien said the other scenario is that the documents are false.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the revelations were "disturbing".

"It cuts to the heart of how whistle-blowers are treated and the degree to which there is acceptance within An Garda Siochana at the highest level about the credibility of the individual concerned making the allegations about his reputation and the veracity of the claims he has made," he said.

Ms Fitzgerald also said selective leaking of extracts of the report was illegal.

Sections of the document were given to the some of the victims of bad policing, the Garda, the Garda Ombudsman, the Attorney General, and the Director of Public Prosecutions before it was published in full.

The scandal revolves around whether the Garda Commissioner ordered a lawyer to act contrary to her public support for Sgt McCabe.

The documents also allegedly show the whistle-blower produced a tape recording of a meeting with two colleagues to prove he had never stated that he was making reports of bad policing and negligence maliciously.

Mr Martin rejected the minister's claims that the inquiry was inquisitorial towards Sgt McCabe but it was extremely adversarial and "almost every single thing was laid at his doorstep".

"There was a sense, rightly or wrongly, that the person making the allegation felt to be the person on trial," he said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the allegations about Sgt McCabe being branded "malicious" were a "small part of what may or may not have happened at the commission".

She said partial disclosure of the commission's work was "inherently unfair" to people who took part, including the 97 witnesses.

"I would say that we must remember that Justice (Kevin) O'Higgins is the person who heard all the evidence and is uniquely in a position to lay out the conclusions which he has done," Ms Fitzgerald said.

The minister said the inquiry showed the dangers of acting on "incomplete information".

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the O'Higgins Commission is now mired in controversy.

"This episode is not mentioned anywhere in the O'Higgins report," he said.

Mr Adams said the response to allegations of wrongdoing in the Garda had been to attack whistle-blowers and their supporters.

"It's now a matter of fact that they were smeared and they were bullied," he said.

"People here (in the Dail) who raised these issues were also smeared. Measured, rational propositions from Sinn Fein and others were ridiculed by the government, including An Taoiseach."

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