Garda told he had duty to reveal data files

A Garda whistleblower who provided a “box of evidence” allegedly containing information on widespread abuse of the penalty point system was advised by the Department of Justice he had a “duty” to bring any such information to the attention of the Oireachtas.

The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has resisted a demand by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to hand over the dossier of files until it receives legal advice on whether it can examine its contents.

Mr Callinan has argued the files — believed to be from the Garda Pulse system — contain personal data which he is responsible for “and should be returned to me forthwith”.

He is supported by Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes, who said there may be criminality involved in the passing on of the information.

But this potentially contradicts what the whistleblower was advised by a senior Department of Justice official who wrote to him on the matter in September.

In correspondence, he was told that if he had evidence contradicting the findings of a report by assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney, “it is your duty as a member of the Garda Síochána to make this evidence available”.

That internal Garda inquiry — published in May — failed to find evidence of widespread corruption involving point quashing, and was branded a “cover-up” by some opposition party TDs.

In the letter to the whistleblower involved in providing information to the PAC, he was told he was “undermining confidence” in the system by making allegations without evidence.

The letter, which was sent on foot of correspondence from the whistleblower to the Taoiseach, said it was “not acceptable” that he had made allegations, “in particular allegations that lives have been avoidably lost, without providing the evidence”.

He was told that he should — accordingly — “make available any evidence you may have which contradicts the findings of assistant commissioner O’Mahoney’s report” to the Garda commissioner or the joint Oireachtas committee on justice.

“Alternatively, you should acknowledge that you have no such evidence.”

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, told the Dáil yesterday that the whistleblower believes he was “encouraged” by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to produce evidence “into the public domain and to the appropriate mechanisms within the State”.

PAC chairman John McGuinness, who was given the box of evidence, told committee members that the whistleblower involved “claims he was within his legal rights to give this to the Oireachtas and in fact said he was encouraged to do so by the minister”.

Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, a member of the force is entitled to reveal confidential information to a member of the Oireachtas “where relevant to the proper discharge of the member’s function”.

The Data Protection Act permits disclosure of information when it pertains to “monies owed or payable to the State”.

Mr McGuinness said there was a need to “strike a balance” between working within data protection laws while acting in the public interest and “trying to examine the claim of the huge loss to the State”.

Mr McGuinness said he will write to the Garda commissioner informing him that he is awaiting legal advice on the issue. The files were sent to the parliamentary legal division without being opened or viewed by any members of the committee.

“I think we should not be stopped in the context of our examination of the implications relevant to the systems failure and the loss of funds to the State,” he said.


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