Michael Clifford: Tribunal focus moves from Maurice McCabe to other whistleblower

The Disclosures Tribunal took a different turn when it reopened for business yesterday, writes Michael Clifford.

Michael Clifford: Tribunal focus moves from Maurice McCabe to other whistleblower

This module is the only one of the four scheduled which does not deal with allegations concerning the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Instead the focus for the next two to three weeks will be on the treatment of another garda member, Keith Harrison. He turned up at the inquiry yesterday in full uniform and took his place among the suits who occupy the legal benches.

He alleges that he was subjected to some severe treatment, most of which he claims stemmed from reporting malpractice in the force. The tribunal will be examining in particular whether Garda management had any influence in the intervention of the child and family agency Tusla in his domestic circumstances. Tusla intervened following the receipt of an anonymous letter concerning the welfare of Garda Harrison’s partner, Marisa Simms.

It might well be surmised that the Harrison case piggybacked on the huge controversy generated last February, following revelations in this newspaper about the false allegation of sexual abuse against Sergeant McCabe, which was generated in Tusla.

In the days after that story broke, Garda Harrison’s legal advisers and politicians such as the Labour Party’s Alan Kelly lobbied hard to have his case included in the tribunal.

In 2008, Garda Harrison arrested a colleague for drink-driving. Over the following months, he was involved in other incidents which discommoded colleagues, although he acted correctly. He claims that he was a marked man within the force after that. The tribunal will not be examining any of those issues, which would have provided some interesting insights, but is beyond the terms of reference.

Instead, the Harrison story is taken up after he transferred to Donegal in March 2011. The transfer was requested to be near his partner, Ms Simms, but the tribunal saw correspondence yesterday which suggested transfers to two other areas were turned down before the transfer to Donegal. Quite obviously, Garda Harrison felt he couldn’t continue on in the midlands under the circumstances.

There was a complication. His partner, Ms Simms, is the sister of Martin McDermott, who was convicted in July 2011 of the manslaughter of 24-year-old Garda Gary McLoughlin in a car ramming incident in December 2009.

McDermott’s sister Marisa Simms married Andrew Simms and took her husband’s name. They had two children but the relationship had broken down and she was seeing Keith Harrison while he was stationed in the midlands. They knew each other from college.

Keith Harrison was transferred to Buncrana a few months before McDermott’s trial. He never revealed his connection during the transfer process. The tribunal heard yesterday that it only came to light following an incident between Ms Simms and her ex-husband in May 2011, to which gardaí were called.

Yesterday, retired Sergeant Daniel Devlin, who worked with Harrison in Buncrana, told the tribunal that the new boy did fine in the station for the first few months. “He settled in well,” Sergeant Devlin said. “He was a good worker.” Then the incident in May. Once the connection came to light Harrison apologised for not disclosing his connection when he began working there. Some weeks later he was transferred to Donegal town. Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan told the inquiry yesterday that Garda Harrison had requested that he not be moved outside Donegal.

The following February, Chief Sheridan was informed that an issue had arisen about Garda Harrison. He had been pulled up for accessing the details of his partner on the Pulse system up to 30 times.

Yesterday, Harrison’s lawyer told the tribunal that he accepts he accessed the data but did so to check whether other members had accessed her name. He claims he believed both he and she were under surveillance from members of the force at this time.

Another problem arose in Donegal town when it was alleged Garda Harrison was not insured on the vehicle he was driving. Chief Super Sheridan appointed a Superintendent to initiate a disciplinary process about that.

Most of yesterday’s proceedings were taken up with those matters that affected Garda Harrison in his first year in Donegal.

The inquiry is expected to hear about the anonymous letter that was sent to the gardaí which prompted Tusla to get involved. In 2013, Ms Simms made a statement to gardaí about what was alleged to be aggressive and threatening behaviour by Garda Harrison. She later withdrew a complaint about the matter.

Next Monday the tribunal is scheduled to hear from Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms.

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