Commissioner must answer to the public

GARDA Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has serious public interest questions to answer following yesterday’s front page Irish Examiner story on her claim that whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was motivated by “malice” when he highlighted malpractice in the force. This leaves Ireland’s most senior garda officer in an invidious position.

O’Higgins Commission of Inquiry was told by senior counsel for Ms O’Sullivan that evidence would be produced to show that Sgt McCabe had told two other officers that he was making his complaints because of malice he harboured towards a senior officer. The inquiry was told that the officers concerned had taken notes at the meeting in question and prepared a report which was forwarded to a senior officer.

Mr O’Higgins asked the commissioner’s lawyer whether “you are attacking his [McCabe’s] motivation and attacking his character”. The reply from Colm Smyth, SC, was: “Right the way through.” He told the judge that he was acting on instructions.

However, Sgt McCabe informed Mr O’Higgins he had a tape recording of the meeting in question. Interestingly, after that, no evidence to show malice was called from the two officers who were at the meeting.

It is patently clear that the Garda Commissioner has questions to answer, even though she says that she is statute barred from commenting. The burning question to be clarified in the public mind is: how can she explain the apparent contradictory position which she adopted with the O’Higgins inquiry in relation to Sgt McCabe, while at the same time, publicly endorsing the whistleblowers and promoting the image of Sgt McCabe?

It is clearly in the Commissioner’s own interest and, indeed, in the interest of restoring the tattered reputation of the entire garda force, that these questions be answered frankly and unambiguously. They are all the more valid since the failed attempt to impugn Sgt McCabe’s character did not appear in the O’Higgins report.

Meanwhile, both sides of this murky scenario were also seen when former justice minister Alan Shatter said it was perfectly right for McCabe to raise issues of public concern. But he added on Today with Sean O’Rourke that “insofar as he made allegations [for] which there was no evidence and were unfounded, he wrought havoc in the lives of a number of people”. The report upheld some of Sgt McCabe’s complaints but found others to be “overstated”, “exaggerated”, “unfounded” and ultimately “withdrawn”.

Against this backdrop, the judgment of Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan must be called into question over the seemingly contradictory approach towards Sgt McCabe. Had he not taped the conversation with his two colleagues, he would be defenseless before the O’Higgins Inquiry.

In the interest of total transparency in the conduct of public affairs, this matter must now be taken up by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.


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