Cork-based sergeant Paul Barry was not targeted nor discredited by senior members of An Garda Síochána after making a protected disclosure, the Disclosures Tribunal has found.
The long-running tribunal has published a 261-page report on its analysis of the claims made by former Garda sergeant Paul Barry of harassment, isolation, and discrediting, and found that none of the officers named by Mr Barry had targeted him.
Having originally been set up primarily to examine matters related to whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe, term of reference (p) of the tribunal says it should “consider any other complaints by a member of the Garda Síochána who has made a protected disclosure prior to February 16, 2017, alleging wrongdoing within the Garda Síochána” where they were subsequently targeted or discredited by senior gardaí.
Former Court of Appeal president Mr Justice Sean Ryan heard the case of Mr Barry, having replaced original chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton in July 2018.
Mr Barry was first attested as a garda in October 1986 before he was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1999 and went on to serve in Mitchelstown for over 16 years before his retirement in June 2016.
He contacted the Disclosures Tribunal in January 2019, enclosing a report he had sent to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris around allegations in respect of an investigation carried out in Mitchelstown in 2012. When interviewed by tribunal investigators, he outlined what he said were seven protected disclosures made between October 2012 and January 2016.
“He further outlined alleged instances of targeting or discrediting by senior officers of An Garda Síochána after the making of these protected disclosures,” Mr Justice Ryan stated in his report.
The tribunal sat for 15 days of oral evidence, beginning on May 17, 2022.
Mr Barry’s allegations were made against his district officer Superintendent Michael Comyns, and divisional officer Chief Superintendent Gerard Dillane.
What Mr Justice Ryan termed “lesser roles” in these matters were played by Chief Superintendent Catherine Kehoe, Superintendent John Quilter, and Inspector Anthony O’Sullivan.
In October 2012, he made nine allegations of bullying and harassment against Supt Comyns, the last of which accused the superintendent of wrongdoing by unlawfully interfering in the criminal investigation into an alleged case of sexual assault reported to Mitchelstown Garda Station in February 2012.
The tribunal reported noted that Mr Barry did not make a complaint about Supt Comyns at the time, and proceeded to complete the investigation and submitted a file to the superintendent for transmission to the DPP.
“However, he avoided contact with the superintendent as much as he could,” Mr Justice Ryan stated.
"Matters came to a head” during an incident on August 1, 2012, when Mr Barry was criticised by the superintendent for being late to work on this and a previous occasion. Mr Barry then felt the sanction he was given was “unjust”.
“This incident appears to have been the precipitating event for Sgt Barry’s going on sick leave on August 6, 2012, with work-related stress,” Mr Justice Ryan stated.
When on sick leave, Mr Barry told Garda authorities he would be making a complaint under the bullying and harassment policy.
In his complaint to the tribunal, Mr Barry stated that An Garda Síochána refused to classify his illness as work-related.
“I believe they did this to punish me financially as I was eight months without allowances and two months on half pay,” he said.
Mr Barry told tribunal investigators that he was forced back to work for financial reasons.
However, the tribunal did not uphold the assertion that senior gardaí had had a role in determining how Mr Barry’s illness and absence was classified.
“Neither C/Supt Dillane nor Supt Comyns made a decision to treat Sgt Barry’s sick leave as being due to ordinary illness and not injury on duty,” Mr Justice Ryan stated.
Mr Justice Ryan accepts that at times Mr Barry had “grounds for thinking the worst”. But he did not agree that attempts to arrange a move to a different garda station represented targeting or discrediting.
He stated: “And again, there is nothing to suggest any motivation on the part of the officer by reference to the bullying and harassment complaint.
One other issue related to Mr Barry being placed on duty under Supt Comyns at the Irish Open Golf Championship at Fota Island in June 2014 and being in the same room as him at briefings related to the policing of the event. The tribunal did not accept that there was any connection between this and Mr Barry's protected disclose and did not represent targeting of him.
The judge said: “It is improbable to the point of being incredible that the officers concerned would have conspired to target Sgt Barry in order to expose him to the mere presence of Supt Comyns for short briefing periods on two days in the presence of some 100 or more members of the force.”
Another complaint related to an application for annual leave for three days where Mr Barry was refused in respect of two of the days.
He took leave for three days on the basis of force majeure, indicating he did so because of family illness. This was the subject of an investigation that cleared Mr Barry, but one that he contended represented targeting.
“This was the subject of an investigation that cleared Sgt Barry, but that he contends represented targeting,” Mr Justice Ryan stated.
“In circumstances where he knowingly failed to comply with rules that were the same for him as for the other sergeants and proceeded to take his leave anyway, the suggestion that this is an instance of targeting is unfounded.”
Despite the judge having “absolved the senior officers from the charges that Mr Barry made”, Mr Justice Ryan does nevertheless make recommendations that “merit consideration”.
This includes the clarification of the existing regime in respect of work-related stress and the extension of the 28-day timeframe for investigators to review bullying and harassment complaints within the Gardaí.
The judge said this timeframe is “insufficient and inflexible”.
Mr Justice Ryan also noted that the series of Garda investigations in Mr Barry’s case “took a long time to complete”, which was partly due to their complex nature.
“Whether there should be a separate internal affairs division to investigate criminal and disciplinary matters is a matter of policy for the Garda authorities, and the tribunal is not in a position to advise on it,” he said.