Belfast Telegraph

Ex-High Court judge to probe 'smear campaign' against Garda whistleblower

A former High Court judge will investigate an alleged smear campaign against a Garda whistleblower, Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed.

In the latest in a string of controversies to rock the force, the Tanaiste and Justice Minister said Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill will report back on his findings within six weeks.

"On conclusion of the review I will consider what further steps may be necessary," she added.

The judge has been charged with probing claims that senior gardai targeted an officer in a widespread character assassination.

It is understood two senior gardai have made statements to justice chiefs that false and damaging allegations were made against the whistleblower and that one has said they were following orders.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan was forced into publicly denying earlier this week that she knew anything about the alleged conspiracy.

The police chief said she would condemn any smear campaign against an officer.

Ms Fitzgerald has confirmed she received correspondence under the Protected Disclosures Act from two members of the force on Monday.

But she said she legally is prevented from making any remarks that could identify those who have made the disclosures.

"Having consulted with the Attorney General, I am now in a position to announce a first step in the process to ensure that these protected disclosures are addressed properly," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the judge-led investigation would review allegations of wrongdoing contained in the disclosures, including interviewing anyone or any group he considers appropriate.

His report, due before the end of November, will include recommendations on any further action needed to address the allegations.

Earlier this week, Clare Daly, TD with the Independents4Change group, demanded Commissioner O'Sullivan resign and claimed the smear campaign was "systematic, organised and orchestrated" and had the "full involvement of the present and former commissioner".

She said it was designed to "not just discredit a whistleblower but to annihilate him".

The commissioner said it would be inappropriate to comment on specific allegations made under protected disclosure rules, which were introduced in 2014 to support whistleblowers.

The police chief urged a comprehensive investigation into the alleged smear campaign, which may date back as far as 2013.

It is claimed hundreds of text messages were disseminated among a large group of officers with instructions to attack the whistleblower's character, and an intelligence file was opened on the whistleblower and movements were monitored.

Journalists and some politicians were also briefed by senior garda concerning allegations about the whistleblower.

Several whistleblowers in the Garda have been identified in recent years, some of whom have spoken out about their treatment after raising concerns about corruption or bad policing.

Among them are Sergeant Maurice McCabe who was vindicated over the vast majority of his concerns about policing standards in parts of the Cavan-Monaghan division and abuse of the penalty point system.

Others are Nick Keogh and Keith Harrison both of whom have been named in the Dail as being victims of harassment after raising concerns about policing.

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