The justice minister has said she was shocked at the revelation a serving garda chief held a secret meeting in a carpark with a TD in an alleged attempt to discredit a garda whistleblower.
Frances Fitzgerald also said yesterday she had full confidence in the garda commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, but conceded cultural change in the force was still needed.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke, the Tánaiste said she had confidence in Ms O’Sullivan. It follows questions about why two gardaí allegedly set out to undermine garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, a matter which was raised following the O’Higgins inquiry into garda malpractice allegations, as previously revealed by the Irish Examiner.
Asked about the issue, she responded: “If that’s true, it would be very disturbing.” Nonetheless, she also gave her full backing for the garda commissioner following criticism over the garda’s lawyer’s actions during the O’Higgins inquiry.
The backing comes after some opposition TDs said Ms O’Sullivan should step down after claims she advised her legal team to challenge the integrity, motivation and credibility of Sgt McCabe, an allegation the garda chief has denied.
However, Ms Fitzgerald admitted there was work to be done in the force, including changing the culture.
“Most organisations have huge difficulty dealing with whistleblowers, we know that,” she said.
The issue of the recently reported secret meeting held between the former garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, and former Public Accounts Committee chairman, John McGuinness was also raised with the minister.
Mr McGuinness has said the then garda chief told him Sgt McCabe was “not to be trusted”, ahead of an Oireachtas Committee meeting where the garda whistleblower was scheduled to give evidence.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “I was shocked when I heard that. I would have preferred if that information had been made available to either the PAC committee or the commission. We’ve only heard one side of the story.”
Mr McGuinness has said the secret meeting was at the request of Mr Callinan, who has now retired and who also chose the location of a Bewley’s carpark on the Naas Road. Mr McGuinness also says he believes the intention of the meeting was to raise doubts about the reliability of Sgt McCabe. The Fianna Fáil TD has defended a decision to not make the details public until recently.
Ms O’Sullivan says she was not made aware of the meeting in the carpark, until it was recently revealed.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has called the meeting “very unusual”.
There also have been calls for both Mr McGuinness and Mr Callinan to further clarify exactly what was discussed. Ministers have said though that Mr Callinan is now retired and therefore it is up to him if he wants to make any public statement.
There has been no response to phonecalls and emails to the former garda chief from the Irish Examiner.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said that he was “taken aback” on hearing of the secret January 2014 meeting.
Mr Howlin also admitted if he had known about the matter, it may have influenced his statement of confidence in the garda commissioner at the time.
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