Following strong disagreement between PAC members on the issue yesterday, it was decided to refer it to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, which is chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett and decides matters relating to the rules of the Oireachtas.
The decision was made after PAC clerk Ted McEnery said he was told by Oireachtas legal advisers releasing the document could set a “dangerous precedent.”
Fine Gael TD John Deasy said there would be implications for every other committee that sat in private, and the witnesses that chose to sit in private if the document was released.
“If three people came into a Justice Committee in the future, and one of them asked for a transcript to be released to them and made public, then there would be major difficulties if we set a precedent in that regard,” said Mr Deasy.
“It would be hugely problematic in a security sense and a privacy sense.”
His colleague, Wicklow TD Simon Harris, said there were things said in the private meeting that, if published, would cause legal difficulties for the whistleblower himself.
Opposition party TDs strongly pushed for the transcript to be released, as requested by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said a previous decision not to release it — made when she was not present at the committee — was a “political decision” which was “not consistent with our standard practice” of acting on a non-partisan basis.
She said: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why, as a committee, we would take a decision to hold his testimony in private and to guard it in that way. It seems to be to be frankly outrageous and unnecessary.”
Ms McDonald said public perception about the treatment of whistleblowers has already been damaged, “and I think we would do more damage in that respect by needlessly insisting on not giving this man a transcript of his evidence as requested by his solicitor”.
Fianna Fáil’s Sean Fleming said the public has supported the committee in its work so far but it would be damaging “if we were now at this stage to pull down the shutters on some of the information we have received”.
He said there is no such thing as a private session in the Dáil chamber, and committees should not work behind closed doors.
PAC chairman John McGuinness said they would seek further advice from Oireachtas authorities and whether the witness is legally entitled to the transcript. Independent TD Shane Ross objected, saying this would waste more time.
After meeting in private, it was agreed to refer it to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges for an “immediate decision”.