Acting Garda Commissioner shuts down attempts to find information about Garda tribunal co-ordination unit

Acting Garda Commissioner Donall O'Cualain has repeatedly shut down any attempts to find out information about the controversial Garda tribunal co-ordination unit - despite the Garda head of HR admitting he formally raised concerns about the group, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Mr O'Cualain refused on at least six occasions during a 40-minute Dáil discussion on the issue on Thursday morning, claiming providing any information on the group would potential undermine the work of the Charleton tribunal into the Maurice McCabe scandal.

Speaking during a 40-minute debate at the start of a day-long Dáil public accounts committee, Mr O'Cualain was repeatedly asked by Labour TD Alan Kelly about the tribunal liaison unit.

Mr O'Cualain said secretary general of the Department of Justice Noel Waters gave oral approval for the new unit to be established on February 21, 2017, at which point a small number of individuals were appointed.

However, after he and Mr Waters said no formal written approval was given by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform until May 5, 2017 - months after the appointments were made - Mr O'Cualain refused to answer any more questions about the group as his answers could interfere or undermine the Charleton tribunal.

Speaking during the same meeting, the head of garda HR John Barrett confirmed to Mr Kelly and Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry that he had raised formal written concerns about the group to the garda legal affairs unit.

However, on each occasion, Mr O'Cualain interrupted to "insist" no further answers were given, despite concerns from Mr Kelly and Mr Mac Sharry that the questions relate to public finances and do not impact on the actual work of the tribunal in any way.

"The question isn't for the commissioner, it's for Mr Barrett. Is he fully, 100% happy, with how this unit was created," Mr Kelly asked at one stage.

"I wrote a number of letters on the topic setting out my views and concerns," Mr Barrett responded, before being interrupted by Mr O'Cualain, who warned:

"We're straying. I'll have to insist we do not pursue."

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