Ms Fitzgerald made it clear yesterday in the Dáil that she expected Ms O’Sullivan to clarify the tactics engaged by her legal team toward Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins inquiry into allegations of Garda malpractice.
Speaking in Washington DC, Taoiseach Enda Kenny weighed into the controversy, expressing his full confidence in Ms O’Sullivan, despite almost a week of revelations about Ms O’Sullivan and her legal team.
But the opposition have demanded an immediate response from the Commissioner, given the apparent sustained campaign to undermine Sgt McCabe.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on Ms O’Sullivan to provide clarity as to her instructions to her legal team, given what detail has emerged in the public domain in recent days.
“The only way we can move on is if we have a comprehensive and transparent dealing of the issue,” he said while insisting he retains confidence in Ms O’Sullivan.
“These issues do cut to the core of a culture that undermines whistleblowers. One could be forgiven to think there was a campaign at all times to undermine the credibility of Maurice McCabe,” he added.
The Tánaiste was speaking in the wake of further revelations in the Irish Examiner and the matter dominated Leaders’ Questions for a second day.
Under pressure, Ms Fitzgerald said the Garda Commissioner will seek to clarify reported attempts to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe by her legal team.
Ms Fitzgerald said a number of times that it would be up to the Garda Commissioner to provide further details.
“I will obviously have ongoing discussions with her. I have no doubt she will seek to clarify as much as possible the points raised by Deputy Martin in her own interventions,” she said.
Later in the debate she added: “Clearly, if the Commissioner saw fit to make further comment and if she were in a legal position to do so it would be helpful. I have no doubt that within the legal constraints she will say as much as possible when she is questioned in future on these issues.”
Labour leader Joan Burton called for answers and referring to the previous responses given by Ms Fitzgerald, she gave the anecdote of a former politician whose speaking papers bore a note on the bottom which read: “If pursued on this matter keep repeating the above.”
But despite the Tánaiste’s assurances, a spokeswoman for the commissioner merely referred to her previous statements, refusing to add any further details. The matter is set to dominate the business of the Dáil next week when the O’Higgins report is set to be debated formally.
The new Policing Authority said it is not planning to discuss the contents or issues surrounding controversy over the transcripts, despite earlier suggestions that it would.
Kenny has insisted he still has “100% support” for “first class” Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan — despite growing calls for her to resign over the O’Higgins controversy.
In Washington DC as part of a two-day State visit, the Fine Gael leader twice said the Garda boss still has his full backing.
The Taoiseach denied the issue is becoming “Groundhog day” as his government has become engulfed in another scandal involving a Garda commissioner’s view of whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
IRISH EXAMINER EDITORIAL COMMENT
Speaking truth to power is usually a challenge. It is a civic duty not without consequences or personal costs.
Who would be a garda whistleblower? Who would be the next Sgt Maurice McCabe? Who would act for the victims of crime when the authorities let them down?
Commissioner O’Sullivan has said she is legally prevented from commenting on the proceedings of the Commission and yesterday Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald echoed that view when she told the Dáil that she was also legally constrained in what she could say. It is difficult to understand that approach, particularly in view of the fact that neither the minister nor the commissioner have specified exactly what prevents them from commenting.
Under the 2004 Commissions of Investigations Act, it is illegal for anyone to disclose evidence but what has been revealed by the Irish Examiner - and later by other media - is not evidence but exchanges between counsel acting for An Garda Síochána and Sgt McCabe and the commission’s chair, Mr Justice O’Higgins.
Minister Fitzgerald has repeatedly described the publications of these exchanges as illegal but she is entirely wrong on that. As Michael McDowell SC pointed out to the commission, the 2004 Act only criminalises disclosure of evidence. He should know. As Minister for Justice at the time, he was one of the chief architects of the legislation.
This matter is of extraordinary public importance. It must not be allowed go unanswered or wished away by Government.