Belfast Telegraph

Inquiry into alleged smear campaign extended to cover other officers

A public inquiry into allegations that Garda chiefs orchestrated a smear campaign against a high-profile whistleblower has been extended to cover other officers who exposed wrongdoing.

The tribunal will also investigate the State child and family agency Tusla for its role in the scandal, relating to its file containing false allegations of sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

In terms of reference, agreed by the Cabinet, the inquiry will also look at allegations of "inappropriate contacts" between the force and Tusla in relation to garda Keith Harrison and other officers.

It will investigate any "pattern of the creation, distribution and use by Tusla of files containing allegations of criminal misconduct" against rank and file gardai who alleged wrongdoing in the force and of the use of the files "knowingly" by top brass to discredit whistleblowers.

Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton, who will head the tribunal, will have to issue an interim report within three months.

He previously worked as senior counsel to the Morris Tribunal, which spent years examining corruption and negligence among some gardai in Donegal in the 1990s.

Superintendent Dave Taylor made the allegation of a smear campaign against Mr McCabe in a protected disclosure last year.

He returned to work on Tuesday after being suspended for almost two years while a separate investigation ran into the alleged leaking of information to the media.

Mr Harrison, who has been on extended sick leave from the force, claims he and his girlfriend endured covert and overt Garda surveillance, referrals to Tusla and that they were the victim of rumour, innuendo and malicious falsehoods.

The officer, who was previously nominated for a Scott Medal for bravery, was stationed in Athlone when he stopped a colleague on suspicion of drink-driving in 2009.

He also raised concerns about drug-dealing investigations.

The terms of reference also mandate the new inquiry to:

:: investigate if Mr Taylor, former head of the Garda press office, was ordered by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan or his successor Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to brief journalists against Mr McCabe, including on the false allegations.

:: find out whether Mr Callinan and Ms O'Sullivan, along with other Garda chiefs, knew of the claims being peddled against Mr McCabe and whether they used them to discredit him.

:: investigate whether senior members of the force attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Mr McCabe of criminal misconduct.

:: probe contacts between gardai and journalists, politicians, the Health Service Executive and any other State bodies or persons deemed relevant to the investigation.

The phone records of Mr Callinan, Mrs O'Sullivan and Mr Taylor between July 2012 and May 2014 will be examined.

It will further look at whether Mrs O'Sullivan "influenced or attempted to influence broadcasts on RTE" on May 9 last year with briefing material " purporting to be a leaked account of the unpublished O'Higgins Commission Report, in which Sergeant McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible."

An alleged meeting between Mr Callinan and Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness in a hotel car park off the Naas Road in west Dublin on January 24 2014 will also be probed.

The ongoing fall-out from the whistleblower controversy continues to rock both the policing and political establishment.

In the Seanad, Michael McDowell, a former Tanaiste, Justice Minister and Attorney General, plied pressure on Ms O'Sullivan to step aside as the country's most senior ranking garda until the tribunal has investigated the affair.

Mr McDowell, also a barrister who represented Mr McCabe during the O'Higgins Commission, said it is "totally inconceivable" that gardai should be asked in a public inquiry to accuse their chief of "grave misbehaviour".

"There is no reason at all for the government to commit that the Garda commissioner should remain in position, and she must step aside temporarily for the duration of the tribunal until it has reported, or permanently," he said.

Ms O'Sullivan issued a hard-hitting statement on Monday insisting she will not step aside and declaring: "I am innocent."

The Policing Authority, which oversees the force, has voiced its confidence in the ability of Garda management to do its job.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, it added: " The Authority is mindful that terms of reference for the public inquiry are still being considered by the Oireachtas and other proposals have recently been announced.

"In these circumstances the Authority has no further comment at this time."

The Policing Authority is scheduled to cross-examine Ms O'Sullivan and her senior management team at a public meeting on February 23.

It said "matters relevant to the Authority's remit will form part of the discussions on that day".


From Belfast Telegraph