O'Higgins report: Refusal to clarify issues is fuelling controversy

So the Taoiseach Enda Kenny has full confidence in the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, writes Daniel McConnell
O'Higgins report: Refusal to clarify issues is fuelling controversy

He said so, all the way from Washington, where he is for a round of 1916 commemorations.

This is despite almost a week of revelations about her dealings with the O’Higgins inquiry into Garda malpractice.

The revelations contained on Prime Time cast a significantly different impression of what happened to other reports on RTÉ news just hours before.

But Mr Kenny’s expression of confidence came despite serious questions as to how Sgt Maurice McCabe was treated by her legal team, acting on her instruction at the commission.

But just what are those allegations?

Last week, the Irish Examiner revealed that documents to the O’Higgins inquiry showed Ms O’Sullivan’s legal team claimed Sgt Maurice McCabe was motivated by “malice” when he highlighted malpractice in the force — while praising his actions in public.

The barrister representing the Garda Commissioner, Colm Smyth, told Judge Kevin O’Higgins that his “instructions at all times were to challenge the motivation and credibility of Sgt McCabe” but said this was “in relation to the corruption and malpractice allegations”.

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Yesterday, the Irish Examiner published further extracts from the transcripts to the O’Higgins Commission which show the extent to which attempts were made to attack the integrity and motivation of Sgt McCabe.

Smyth was asked on a number of occasions by Judge O’Higgins to clarify the matter.

At one point the judge surmised: “In other words that he [Sgt McCabe] made these allegations not in good faith but because he was motivated by malice or some such motive and that impinges on his integrity. If those are your instructions from the commissioner, so be it.”

Mr Smyth replied: “So be it, that is the position, judge.” The lawyer went on to say, “I mean this isn’t something I am pulling out of the sky judge, and I mean I can only act on instructions.”

The transcripts clearly showed that a case would be presented that Sgt McCabe was acting in bad faith when he made his complaints of garda malpractice.

Some days after the exchange in the transcripts published yesterday, Sgt McCabe produced a tape recording of the meeting in question, which showed he made no expression of malice. The matter was not revisited by the commission thereafter and was not included in the final report.

But, yesterday in the Dáil, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald put the onus on the commissioner to kill this most persistent and thorny issue.

Fitzgerald said the Garda Commissioner will seek to clarify reported attempts to discredit whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe by her legal team.

Ms Fitzgerald came under further pressure to answer questions on how the Garda Commissioner directed her legal team.

However, she said she could not comment on the leaked transcripts while speaking in the Dáil, saying 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 in terms of answering some of the points made by the Deputy.

Addressing the transcripts, which have been published in this newspaper, she claimed that these leaked documents are “illegal” and it would be “inappropriate” of her to respond to them.

Then last night, it was made clear that there is not likely to be any further clarification coming from O’Sullivan any time soon.

She simply referred the media to her previous statements.

But she cannot escape the reality that as long as she fails to kill off this controversy, she will remain in the spotlight and her position will be in question.

Given Fitzgerald’s comments yesterday, two factors will determine if O’Sullivan survives this current crisis.

The timing of when she clarifies the instructions given to her legal team and to what extent she is open about how she wanted to counter McCabe’s claims to the Commission.

Last night’s refusal by O’Sullivan to answer those demands for clarification does not bode well and certainly will keep the pressure on her.

But, without question, it is up to her to try and save her own skin.

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