WHO are we to believe? Last Wednesday, the under-fire Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan denied she had any knowledge of any smear campaign against whistleblowers within the force.
That was the charge made in two explosive protected disclosures which landed on the desk of Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last Monday.
One of the men behind the disclosure is a former Garda press officer, Superintendent Dave Taylor, who has claimed the commissioner personally knew of the campaign to discredit the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
“Commissioner O’Sullivan would like to make it clear that she was not privy to, nor approved of, any action designed to target any Garda employee who may have made a protected disclosure, and would condemn any such action,” was the line from the Garda Press Office on Wednesday.
Supt Taylor, it seems, met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in Leinster House on Thursday for 90 minutes, when he restated his claims, according to a report yesterday in the Irish Independent.
Asked for her view on the claims in the story, the commissioner reissued the exact same statement — that she was not “privy to nor approved any action” to destroy whistleblowers.
At a doorstep, Ms O’Sullivan refused to address the queries, repeatedly saying “that is a matter for another day. I have another meeting to go to.”
So what we are left with are not just different viewpoints, but wholly contradictory statements on a most serious matter.
So is Supt Taylor correct or is Ms O’Sullivan correct?
If Supt Taylor is correct and the commissioner did have knowledge of said campaign to smear Sgt McCabe, then. given her public denials, her position is without question untenable.
If Supt Taylor is wrong and Ms O’Sullivan can prove it, or at least do enough to get this controversy away from her door, then her position as commissioner is more secure.
Silence from her at this juncture is not an option, given that we now know Supt Taylor is the man involved.
Let’s take a step back to Mick Clifford’s original exclusive story in this newspaper on Tuesday.
That story said the following: “Two senior gardaí have made statements under whistle- blower legislation, alleging that senior Garda management conducted a major campaign to ‘destroy’ a whistleblower within the force. The ‘protected disclosures’ of the two officers reference a campaign that included spreading false, scandalous, and damaging allegations against the whistleblower in question.
“The purpose of the campaign was to completely discredit the whistleblower to the extent of destroying his character. One of the two officers making the disclosure is admitting his role in the campaign to discredit the whistleblower, but claims he was following orders.”
That day in the Dáil, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly let rip as to who she thought was to blame.
“Did it not seem odd to the Taoiseach when the Garda Commissioner said this morning that she wants to encourage whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána to come forward, despite all of the evidence that these people have been mistreated?” Ms Daly said during leaders’ questions.
“If the Garda Commissioner herself is not directly involved in the harassment, does the Taoiseach not have a problem with the fact that her authority is so discredited that instructions she has allegedly given for whistleblowers to be protected are being ignored, wholesale, across the ranks of An Garda Síochána?”
The crucial element is that Supt Taylor is now the most inconvenient witness from Ms O’Sullivan’s point of view.
He is not some junior officer from the sticks who can easily be marginalised.
He was the senior officer authorised to deal with the media on behalf of the force.
He would have had constant access to the commissioner of the day, which was her, and Martin Callinan before her.
Central to the disclosure is that Supt Taylor was acting on orders from on-high. That means the office of the commissioner, and nowhere else.
This point has to be addressed by Ms O’Sullivan, and quickly, if she is to retain any credibility.
The matter has dominated the political agenda all week.
Independent TD Mick Wallace let fly his fury on Thursday in the Dáil, where he called on the Tánaiste to remove the commissioner.
“The Garda is in turmoil,” said Mr Wallace. “There is a split in it with two camps. The Garda Commissioner has promoted a ring around her. It is corrosive. She is doing so much damage to An Garda Síochána that there are many good gardaí shocked at how she is operating. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality cannot leave her in position.”
In response, Ms Fitzgerald said she was precluded from commenting on the matter and said there should not be a rush to judgement.
“I will follow the legislation, passed in this house, where people have a right to confidentiality and due process,” she said. “I would not be doing my job as Minister for Justice and Equality if I did not follow due process and the law laid down regarding protected disclosures, a law on which we have all agreed should be followed.”
Ms Fitzgerald, once again, as a member of the law and order Fine Gael party, is having to contain a major scandal in the justice area.
Previous similar scandals have taken down her predecessor Alan Shatter, former commissioner Martin Callinan, and others, and Ms Fitzgerald herself is under fire for not being prompt enough in her dealings with whistleblower complaints.
As reported in the Irish Examiner in recent days, whistleblowers Nick Keogh and Keith Harrison have claimed that their repeated pleas for help to Ms Fitzgerald have gone without any tangible response from the Tánaiste.
The prospect of yet another commission of inquiry has been met with some expressions of discontent, as a result of the raft of inquiries now in train.
While there is some fatigue with such a move, an independent examination of Supt Taylor’s claims is the very least that is required at this stage.
Ultimately, in the two years since Ms O’Sullivan has been in the job, we have heard many expressions from her about the protection of whistleblowers.
While Supt Taylor’s claims carry the status of allegations at this stage, they follow a very similar pattern to previous claims from gardaí such as McCabe, Keogh, and Harrison.
With Supt Taylor’s claims now out in the public domain, the burden is now on Ms O’Sullivan to prove him wrong and to vindicate her statements of denial.
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste have so far expressed their confidence in the commissioner, but we know how quickly such confidence can evaporate.
Just ask Martin Callinan or Alan Shatter on that one.
An unsteady Ms O’Sullivan said yesterday that this is a matter for another day, but be sure of it, that day is coming fast.