Brendan Howlin places Garda Commissioner at centre stage

The Taoiseach is standing by Nóirín O’Sullivan, saying there has been no finding of wrongdoing against her, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

What a bombshell Labour leader Brendan Howlin dropped in the Dáil chamber yesterday.

He did it during Leaders’ Questions, the showbiz prime time event of the political day in Leinster House. Covered by all media outlets, the exchanges between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and opposition leaders are also televised.

During his contribution, Howlin surprised many when he called for the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to stand aside while a commission of investigation conducts its work. This inquiry is to investigate allegations that senior gardaí, including Ms O’Sullivan, led a campaign to destroy the reputation of garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

“I cannot think of another walk of life where, if allegations of this nature had been made against a person in a position of power, they would not be placed on administrative leave until the outcome of the investigation is known. This would be true of a school principal or even a shop manager.That it is not true for the head of An Garda Síochána is troubling,” said Mr Howlin.

Then, the bombshell hit.

“This morning, a journalist contacted me and told me they had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014, in the course of which the Commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe,” Mr Howlin told a stunned Dáil. Mr Howlin’s comments have put the Garda Commissioner’s role in the maltreatment of Sgt McCabe front and centre again.

“If it were a fact that the Garda Commissioner was in direct contact with the media making allegations against one of her officers at around the same time, it would be extraordinary. I do not know whether the charges being made against the Garda Commissioner are true,” he concluded.

Mr Howlin is a veteran politician. He is a former minister several times over. He is also a former vice-chairman of the Dáil.

He is a stickler for rules and procedure, so, unlike others who have clearly abused their privilege in the past, for Howlin to make such an intervention was truly significant and it is a turning point in the career of Ms O’Sullivan, come what may in the future.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who is not an interventionist by nature, was roused to his feet to object to Mr Howlin’s comments.

“I am concerned that the deputy is raising points in the House that are extremely dangerous; that he is taking us into territory into which we should not venture. It is not an appropriate matter to raise in the House,” he said.

Defiantly, Mr Howlin said public confidence in the entire force must take priority over any individuals.

“As I said, in the normal course of events, when there are serious issues like these that go to the heart of the administration of justice in our State, people will be asked to stand aside,” he said.

“Our primary duty is to ensure that we restore confidence to An Garda Síochána, which has been battered and bruised by many investigations and allegations.”

Mr Howlin asked the Taoiseach whether he agreed that the Garda Commissioner should stand aside.

The Taoiseach stood by the Commissioner. He has already lost one on his watch in dubious circumstances involving the handling of Sgt McCabe. To lose two might seem to be careless, especially for the law-and-order party.

He told the Dáil there has been no finding of wrongdoing against the Garda Commissioner and that she was entitled to the Government’s full support.

“As I have consistently stated on many occasions, there has been no finding of any wrongdoing of any kind against her and, in those circumstances, she is entitled to our full support, and that remains the position,” said Mr Kenny.

He said these were allegations and their truth had yet to be tested. He said the allegations were to be the basis for the commission of inquiry by Mr Justice Peter Charleton and were vehemently denied by the two people at the centre of them.

He said Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill could not establish where the truth of the allegations lay and a prima facie case of any wrongdoing had not been found.

While Ms O’Sullivan has repeatedly and consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to Sgt McCabe, Mr Howlin’s charges yesterday have put her position in the spotlight once more.

He is correct in saying that precedence exists for her to stand aside, without prejudice, while the inquiry concludes its work.

Ms O’Sullivan has tried to project the image of the grand reformer of a battered and bruised Garda force, but the truth is, she is an insider.

The questions raised by Mr Howlin in the Dáil most certainly deserve answers.

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