Former Garda chief describes political and media ‘vortex’ after character attack strategy was revealed
Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has been challenged by the chairman of the Disclosures Tribunal over claims that Sergeant Maurice McCabe hurt victims of crime, other gardaí, and the general public through his whistleblower allegations.
Judge Peter Charleton made his intervention during cross-examination of Ms O’Sullivan by counsel for Sgt McCabe on her second day appearing at the tribunal.
The tribunal was shown a submission made on Ms O’Sullivan’s behalf to the O’Higgins Commission, in which it was claimed that victims of crime with whom Sgt McCabe dealt were “erroneously led to believe that they were disserved by An Garda Síochána”.
“This in turn led to those victims being put through further, unnecessary suffering,” it said.
The submission, which also alleged Sgt McCabe’s actions had hurt individual gardaí, forced some of them — meaning former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan — to resign and had damaged relations between the public and the force, was made in February 2016 after the commission’s hearings had ended and Judge O’Higgins was writing up his report.
Its contents are at odds with Ms O’Sullivan’s insistence that she was supportive of Sgt McCabe, never doubted he acted out of good faith, and never issued instructions to her lawyers to attack his integrity during Commission hearings.
Michael McDowell, for Sgt McCabe, demanded to know who the victims were but Ms O’Sullivan said she did not know because the incidents referred to had happened in the Bailieborough district and she would not know the local details.
After testy exchanges failed to clear up the matter, Judge Charleton intervened, pointing out that victims had not in fact been served well by the gardaí — as Sgt McCabe sought to highlight. “It is hard to know why that submission, therefore, could have any rational basis.”
Mr Charleton also intervened to press Ms O’Sullivan for answers after she became evasive on the claim that Sgt McCabe’s actions forced gardaí to resign. She eventually replied that her predecessor, Martin Callinan, had retired.
Mr McDowell said trying to blame Sgt McCabe for Mr Callinan’s retirement amounted to a “dark lie”.
The exchanges came during five hours of evidence, during which Ms O’Sullivan described being caught in a media and political storm she termed a “vortex” in May 2016 when the Irish Examiner revealed the strategy employed by her legal team to attack Sgt McCabe’s motivations and integrity.
Ms O’Sullivan said she knew of a query put to the Garda press office by Irish Examiner journalist Michael Clifford in relation to the story he was writing but she was precluded by law from commenting on the commission’s private proceedings.
After the story, which she claimed was “erroneous”, appeared, she said she faced a barrage of demands for comment from all media outlets, the leader of the Opposition, Micheál Martin, and others were questioning her position, then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald was being pushed to respond, and the story ran on every news bulletin for days.
“It led to what I would say was unprecedented politicisation of my position as commissioner,” she said. “It was the intensity of which these matters were being personalised towards me as commissioner of An Garda Síochána. I felt as a public servant, that I was being used as a political football, if I can put it that way, and this was the start of something that continued right up to I retired last year.”
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