Garda statement awaits ‘political nod’

There are growing signs the expected statement from the Garda commissioner over the O’Higgins transcripts is awaiting a “political” green light.

Garda statement awaits ‘political nod’

Intense high-level talks continued yesterday — but it is not clear when Nóirín O’Sullivan will issue a response. Transparency International Ireland has called for an inquiry by the Garda Inspectorate into the treatment of Garda whistle-blowers, including Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

A spokeswoman for the inspectorate said there were “no immediate plans” to conduct such an investigation.

There was speculation on Thursday that a statement from the commissioner could be forthcoming later that day. It was confirmed that a meeting did take place between the Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Garda chief in the afternoon — but no statement emerged.

The expectation of a response from the Garda commissioner was created by both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste on Wednesday, when they said they expected clarification, within the legal constraints, from the Garda boss on her instructions to her legal counsel about Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins inquiry.

Transcripts from the inquiry in May 2015, published in the Irish Examiner, showed that this included challenging the “motivation”, “credibility” and “integrity” of Sgt McCabe in relation to the corruption and malpractice allegations.

In a November meeting, her counsel, Colm Murphy, said he erred in stating integrity, but confirmed they were challenging his “credibility” and “motivation”.

In 2014, the commissioner publicly backed Sgt McCabe and appointed him to the Garda Standards Unit.

The delay in the commissioner’s statement is thought to be due to legal concerns around the waiving of legal privilege regarding client-lawyer confidentiality and the legal prohibition against revealing evidence at commissions of investigation.

Because of these issues, the decision on the statement is said to be ultimately one for the Tánaiste, advised by her senior officials, and the Taoiseach, advised by his officials and the attorney general.

Sources described the matter as now being a “political” one.

There are concerns within the authorities at the legal “ramifications” for future interactions between gardaí, and the State with inquiries by lifting, even in a limited way, client-lawyer privilege, as well as “ripple effects” for other state bodies.

Discussions among senior officials continued yesterday, but Ms Fitzgerald was out of the country on EU business in Brussels.

A statement could emerge over the weekend, with an eagerness, particularly within Garda circles to have it out, at the very latest, before the Dáil debates the O’Higgins report next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ms O’Sullivan’s statement is likely to be limited in what it says.

It is also conceivable no statement will be issued and that the commissioner will only provide information to the Policing Authority at a private meeting next Thursday.

Unless chairwoman Josephine Feehily gives an interview after that, the public will not know anything about what was said, at least until the minutes are published the month after.

There is also the prospect of the Oireachtas Justice Committee calling her in as early as next week.

Garda headquarters last night said it was boosting welfare resources for whistleblowers and was seeking external advice in the area.

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