Concerns were expressed in a government department about the setting up of a controversial unit in An Garda Síochána to liaise with the Disclosures Tribunal, according to documents seen by the Irish Examiner.
The unit was initially staffed by retired garda members who were known to be close to then commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. The unit was effectively a filter operation for all information going from the force to the tribunal which is investigating alleged attempts to smear Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
According to correspondence seen by the Irish Examiner, officials in the Department of Public Expenditure were concerned the re-employment of the former members could contribute to the “issues that continue to impact on public trust and confidence in An Garda Síochána”.
Replying to a request from the Department of Justice to sanction the contracts for the retired members, the official asked whether alternative approaches to servicing the tribunal had been considered.
“It would be extremely unsatisfactory if the proposed approach — rehiring former senior Garda officers — was to impact negatively on the workings of the tribunal, therefore compounding ongoing problems,” principal officer at the Department of Public Expenditure John Burke wrote.
“An assessment from your department which concludes that such risks are unfounded would be helpful for us in making a decision regarding this sanction request.”
The letter is dated April 12, 2017. By that point, lawyers for Sgt McCabe and former garda press officer Superintendent David Taylor had expressed concern at the tribunal about the liaison unit.
The Irish Examiner had also reported on issues around the unit which was up and running even though official sanction for its budget had not yet been approved.
A replying letter from a principal officer at Justice pointed out an alternative approach would have been to employ a firm of solicitors. This approach “was floated within An Garda Síochána but was not put forward by the commissioner”, principal officer Anne Barry wrote.
She pointed out that it would take much longer to get up and running if this approach was taken and it would cost “a multiple of the cost of re-engaging retired staff”.
She also said that the Department of Justice had “no reason to believe that the proposed approach will impact negatively on the workings of the tribunal”.
The Department of Public Expenditure did sanction the re-employment of the two retired members in a letter on May 5 in which the line, “Given your Department’s assessment that this overall approach is appropriate”, was underlined.
Since the unit was set up, head of human resources in AGS John Barrett wrote five times to express various concerns about its function and its capacity to act in an appropriate manner for all garda members engaging with the tribunal.
Ms O’Sullivan resigned as commissioner in September 2017. Last month, acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin officially informed the minister for justice of ongoing concerns about the unit under Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act.
Ms O’Sullivan is scheduled to appear before the tribunal next Wednesday and Mr Barrett is pencilled in to appear the following day.
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