'I don't believe there was an attack launched on Sgt McCabe,' Nóirín O'Sullivan tells Charleton Tribunal

'I don't believe there was an attack launched on Sgt McCabe,' Nóirín O'Sullivan tells Charleton Tribunal

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has told the Charleton Tribunal that she had done nothing that would threaten the role of garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The tribunal has heard how Sgt McCabe resigned his position as sergeant-in-charge of the traffic division in Mullingar on May 18, 2015, while the garda commissioner's legal team had told the O'Higgins Commission they were instructed to question Sgt McCabe's credibility and motivation in making complaints.

Sgt McCabe told a senior officer he felt "under threat" and "if anything was to go wrong they would be down on him like a ton of bricks".

Ms O'Sullivan is giving evidence for the third day before the Charleton tribunal, which is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the commissioner to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation.

Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, asked Ms O'Sullivan if she had any knowledge of "bad blood" between Supt Noel Cunningham and Sgt McCabe, and that Supt Cunningham believed the sergeant was trying to "undermine" him.

"I never spoke to Supt Cunningham in respect of his view of Sgt McCabe," Ms O'Sullivan said.

Mr McDowell said there was a "manifest conflict of interest" in the fact that the same legal team represented Supt Cunningham, who "had an extremely hostile attitude to Sgt McCabe", and the garda commissioner.

The witness said her advice was for a single team to represent all serving and former gardaí, and she would have been advised if a conflict arose. Ms O'Sullivan said she was not present at the consultations between the legal team and Supt Cunningham.

"I'm not in a position to say what instructions were given or what factual input was given by other people," said Ms O'Sullivan.

She said there was no conflict of interest, adding “If any conflict arose I would have been advised to revisit representation".

On the second day of hearings at the O'Higgins Commission, 15 May 2015, a legal row erupted when Mr McDowell on behalf of Sgt McCabe asked lawyers for the garda commissioner to confirm that instructions they were acting from came from her.

The inquiry had adjourned in order to contact the commissioner, and during that Friday afternoon Ms O'Sullivan also spoke to officials in the Department of Justice.

Ms O'Sullivan said that by the time she spoke to Dept of Justice assistant secretary Ken O'Leary on the afternoon of 15 May, she had already confirmed her instructions to her legal counsel. She said she updated Mr O'Leary on events, but did not seek advice from him.

The tribunal has previously heard that Annmarie Ryan, a solicitor in the Chief State Solicitor's Office, was seeking a meeting with the commissioner following the debate over the commissioner's legal instructions.

The garda liaison at the commission, Chief Supt Fergus Healy, has said he was told the commissioner was too busy to arrange a meeting that weekend.

Ms O'Sullivan said she was always busy, but no matter what she was doing she would make herself available to consult with her legal teams.

"I'm not sure where Chief Supt Healy got the impression that I was too busy for a consultation, because that would never be the case," Ms O'Sullivan said.

"The desire of Ms Ryan to have a consultation with me was never conveyed to me either verbally or in writing on the Friday or over that weekend," she said later.

Ms O'Sullivan said she was "very surprised" when she was told that Sgt McCabe had resigned as sergeant-in-charge of the Mullingar traffic unit. Sgt McCabe told his superintendent he felt "under threat" from the garda commissioner at the O'Higgins inquiry.

"I don't believe there was an attack launched on Sgt McCabe. I don't believe there was an attack launched on anybody. There was legal argument," Ms O'Sullivan said.

"I certainly didn't feel I had done anything which would amount to a threat to Sgt McCabe in his role as a sergeant in charge of traffic in Mullingar," she added.

Ms O'Sullivan denied she was being starved of information or kept in the dark, and said that her liaison officer Chief Supt Healy kept her informed of events at the Commission of Investigation as they unfolded.

She said she was told that the judge had ruled Sgt McCabe's motivation was peripheral at the Commission, and she considered the issue closed.

The former commissioner said she did not give instructions to withdraw any suggestions at the Commission that Sgt McCabe acted in bad faith in making complaints about garda misconduct and malpractice, because she had never given such an instruction.

Notes taken by Chief Supt Healy of a meeting between the Commissioner and her legal team on 3 November 2015 before she was due to begin her evidence at the inquiry contained a note "(Mal Fides) Bad Faith - would the commissioner consider withdrawing?"

"It's not my note and I don't know what was in the mind of the person who was writing it," Ms O'Sullivan said.

The former commissioner agreed with Patrick McCann SC for the Dept of Justice that in her calls on 15 May 2015 to department officials, she would have discussed several other issues in addition to the O'Higgins Commission, including arrangements relating to the pending visit of the Prince of Wales and any security situation, and a planned commemoration the following day.

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