Garda Commissioner to release O’Higgins statement

The Garda Commissioner is expected to issue a statement as early as today in a bid to quell controversy over her directions to lawyers over Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins inquiry.

There was speculation that a statement was going to be published yesterday, but it never materialised.

The Department of Justice confirmed yesterday that Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan met in the afternoon.

Both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald stated on Wednesday that they expected Ms O’Sullivan to give more clarification, within legal constraints.

The controversy centres around what instructions Ms O’Sullivan gave to her counsel at the O’Higgins inquiry regarding the legal strategy towards Sgt McCabe.

Last Friday, the Irish Examiner quoted from transcripts from legal argument at the O’Higgins inquiry in May 2015, at which it was claimed Ms O’Sullivan was alleging “malice” on the part of Sgt McCabe in his claims of corruption.

On Monday of this week, Ms O’Sullivan issued a statement in which she said she did not, and never had, regarded Sgt McCabe as “malicious”.

On Wednesday, the Irish Examiner published actual transcripts from the May meeting, at which Colm Smyth SC told the inquiry he had been instructed to challenge the “motivation”, “credibility”, and “integrity” of Sgt McCabe in relation to the corruption and malpractice allegations.

Those transcripts show Mr Smyth did not use the word ‘malice’ but appeared to agree with the proposition from Mr Justice O’Higgins that he was claiming “malice or some such motive” on the part of Sgt McCabe.

At a later hearing, Mr Smyth said he erred in saying he was instructed to challenge Sgt McCabe’s integrity, but said the legal team was challenging his “credibility” and “motivation”.

The controversy grew on Wednesday in the Dáil and Ms Fitzgerald came under sustained questioning.

It is thought that Ms O’Sullivan and Ms Fitzgerald hope the forthcoming statement will be sufficient to allay political concern, particularly within Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, if not the wider public concern.

Ms O’Sullivan is scheduled to meet the Policing Authority next Thursday in a private session, at which she is likely to be questioned on the matter.

Elsewhere, she could be asked to attend the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is expected to form next week.

Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald has pledged to report directly to the Dáil on her talks with Ms O’Sullivan about the O’Higgins report.

The inquiry into allegations of malpractice in the force is now expected to be debated next week in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald pressed the Tánaiste in the Dáil yesterday about why there had been no answers to growing questions about how the commissioner’s lawyers had acted in the O’Higgins Inquiry.

Responding, Ms Fitzgerald said she fully supported “the Commissioner in the difficult job she is doing”, adding: “I have ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner. When it comes to the Dáil debate next week, consistent with the principles I outlined yesterday that must be observed by both her and by me, I will inform the House fully as to the outcome of those discussions.”

Alison O’Connor: 12

Analysis: 12

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