As the Government published the terms of reference of a commission of inquiry, opposition parties demanded Ms O’Sullivan step aside for the duration of the investigation.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin went further, claiming Ms O’Sullivan’s position was untenable. Earlier, in the Dáil he accused the commissioner of spreading allegations of sex crimes against Sgt McCabe.
He said he was contacted by a journalist who claimed direct knowledge of the smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
“The journalist told me that they have direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda commissioner to journalists during 2013- 2014 in the course of which the commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe,” said Mr Howlin.
Ms O’Sullivan issued a statement categorically denying the allegations which were made under Dáil privilege, saying she “refutes in the strongest terms the suggestion that she has engaged in the conduct alleged against a serving member of An Garda Síochána”.
The statement added: “This is the first occasion on which the commissioner has been made aware of the allegations made by Deputy Howlin and to her knowledge no report having been made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman or elsewhere relating to the specific allegations.”
The commission of inquiry, headed by Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton, will examine claims by former head of the Garda press office Superintendent Dave Taylor that he was involved in a campaign of propaganda against Sgt McCabe in 2013 and 2014, and that he was operating under the instructions from then commissioner Callinan and with the knowledge of Ms O’Sullivan, who was deputy commissioner.
The inquiry will examine whether there was a concerted campaign to blacken Sgt McCabe’s character, including allegations Mr Taylor was instructed to:
* Encourage reporters to write negatively about Sgt McCabe and brief reporters that Sgt McCabe’s claims of malpractice have no substance;
* To brief reporters that Sgt McCabe was motivated by revenge against the gardaí over an allegation of criminal conduct allegedly made against him;
* To examine any files on Maurice McCabe which were created or retained.
This refers to an allegation from Mr Taylor that an intelligence file on Sgt McCabe was created at Garda HQ.
The commission will also examine phone records from Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan for the period in question, and examine a meeting between Mr Callinan and John McGuinness in 2014, when the latter was chair of the Public Accounts Committee, in front of which Sgt McCabe was due to appear.
Mr Justice Charleton is also tasked with investigating whether Ms O’Sullivan planned and orchestrated broadcasts on RTÉ on May 9 last year using briefing material prepared in Garda headquarters.
The terms of reference of the inquiry state that the report, purporting to be a leaked account of an inquiry into Sgt McCabe’s whistleblowing, branded him a “liar and irresponsible”.
Significantly, issues around alleged attempts to attack Sgt McCabe’s character at the O’Higgins Commission have not been included in the inquiry.
Sinn Féin and a number of independents have also called for the commissioner to step aside but both the Government and Fianna Fáil have indicated that they believe she is entitled to remain in office unless any of the allegations are substantiated.
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said that the allegations of wrongdoing have to be investigated fairly and fully.
“That is what is now going to happen,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“It is in the interests of both persons making the allegations and those against whom allegations have been made that the commission, which will have all the necessary legal powers to attempt to establish the truth, be allowed proceed with its important work.”