Further to Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly’s interview on Morning Ireland this morning in relation to the treatment of Garda whistleblowers and, during which, she called for the resignation of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
The matter was raised with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today.
Mr Kenny had the following exchanges with Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald and MS Daly.
Mary Lou McDonald: “You say the minister [for justice Frances Fitzgerald] will reflect on these matters and decide what to do. I understand that the minister has in fact been in possession of correspondence for some months. I understand that the minister actually failed to respond to a number of Garda whistleblowers. Can I ask you Taoiseach, who’s in charge here? Is the minister in charge? Is the commissioner in charge? Who is accountable for these practices? Who is accountable for the smearing and targeting of Garda whistleblowers. Do you have confidence Taoiseach in the commissioner? Do you have confidence that she is discharging her duties fully and faithfully. Do you have confidence in her capacity to protect whistleblowers? And I would ask you the same question of your minister, Minister Frances Fitzgerald.”
Enda Kenny: “I haven’t seen the correspondence that the minister received, nor should I because it was sent to her [France Fitzgerald] under that [the Protected Disclosures] act.I assume that the information, contained therein, needs to be examined and needs to be reflected upon very carefully becaue it is very serious.”
“Otherwise, it wouldn’t be received under that section of the act. Somebody’s got to do that Deputy [Mary Lou] McDonald and I would expect that that would be, or certainly that that could be a member of the judiciary who will examine the contents of the document received and see whether they stand up or whether they don’t.”
“Obviously, out of that, out of that comes a decision about what action might or might not be taken. I’ve already said I’ve absolute confidence in the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner, I don’t have any reason not to.”
Clare Daly: “Taoiseach, you might have got away with that response to deputy McDonald, if you could call it a response, if this was an isolated incident of mistreatment of whistleblowers and I note that you’re confidence in this minister and the commissioner are a bit like the time you gave 100% confidence to the last two before it went to zero overnight.”
“Now, exactly two years ago this week, I put it to you that a Garda whistleblower in the Midlands region had come forward with serious information regarding Garda involvement in the drugs trade. Information which was indisputable.”
“Now that individual Nick Keogh has subsequently been vindicated by an internal Garda inquiry which supported his allegations in that regard. And yet, two and half years on, this whistleblower has been out sick for almost a year, he’s surviving on just over €200 a week. He’s had five internal investigations drummed up against him. Medical certificates admitted saying he was out with work-related stress were changed to absence from flu, while the Superintendent who stood over all of that is on the promotions list.”
“Now you were twice approached by a Garda in that division and warned about a senior officer who failed to deal with complaints in that area and twice, since you were approached, that senior officer has been promoted. Including, being handpicked by the Commissioner for a high-profile job in the Phoenix Park, despite three complaints against Garda whistleblowers against him.”
“Four times, one of the Garda whistleblowers wrote directly to your Minster for Justice and told her of the treatment he was experiencing. He made the point that, as his colleague in a different region was getting exactly the same treatment that it couldn’t be a coincidence and it was inconceivable that senior management and the Garda Commissioner would not be aware of it.”
“Nineteen times myself and Deputy Wallace have raised what has been happening to whistleblowers Nick Keogh and Keith Harrison, who’s out two years surviving on a pittance with a young family. He’s post has been opened. Garda patrol cars cruising down a lane where he lived 25 kilometres from the nearest Garda station. The HSE called to his kids – all on Commissioner O’Sullivan’s watch.”
“So, really, how many examples do you need to be presented to you in terms of the gulf between the public statements of the Commissioner and her private actions in relation to dealing with whistleblowers before you’re going to act. Your minister has had [inaudible] from the O’Higgins commission. She’s had the Section 41 complaint from the civilian head of An Garda Siochana and, most shockingly, she has had a protected disclosure of two senior gardai outlining systematic, organised, orchestrated campaign to not just discredit a whistleblower but to annihilate him with the full involvement of the present and former commissioner. So I want to ask you, Taoiseach, is very simple. What in God’s name do you need another investigation for? Is it not patently obvious that it’s beyond time for the commissioner to go?”
Kenny: “Well, the question here is in respect of the, of the information received under the Protected Disclosure Act and that has been received by the Minister for Justice. She has to assess that and appoint a person of competence to deal with it. As I say, whatever is in that documentation, either stands up or it doesn’t. And in that regard it is a very serious matter. The powers of GSOC are there for all to see, the justice has requested that those powers be extended and the minister is considering that. The Independent Police Authority itself has been asked for its views on, on the treatment of whistleblowers and those in the gardai who made disclosures known about wrongdoing or alleged wrongdoing. From that point of view, as I said, whistleblowers should not be in the position that you outline here for two members of the gardai and, obviously, if these investigations have been taking place, whether by GSOC or internally, this matter has to be concluded. Whistleblowers have always provided a valuable service in the public interest and I respect that completely and will defend it. In the case of the most recent documents received by the Minister for Justice , we’ve got to deal with that by appointing a person of ability to go through that documentation and assess whether or not the contents of it stand up or whether they don’t. And I expect that the minister will make an announcement about that very soon, Deputy Daly.”
Daly: “You tell us that whistleblowers shouldn’t be treated poorly and you’ll respect and defend that but you must have a different interpretation of her respect and defence than I have. Because you have been presented with evidence, and your minister has, over a period of two and a half years, that that has not been the case.”
“You tell us that GSOC has the powers that the powers are there for all to see. The powers are not there for all to see, even GSOC have said they don’t have the powers to deal with this situation. Does it not seem odd to you, minister, or Taoiseach, when you listen to the commissioner this morning, when she says that the gardai is an area where she wants to encourage whistleblowers to come forward despite all of the evidence that these people have been mistreated.”
“So, could you maybe tell me this? If the commissioner herself is not directly involved in that harassment, do you not have a problem that her authority is so discredited that instructions she has allegedly given – for whistleblowers to be protected – are being wholesale ignored across the ranks of An Garda Siochana, because that is the evidence that is being presented to your minister over a whole period of time.”
“So if you mean what you say, and you really do really respect and defend whistleblowers, you’d be answering very differently because you’d actually be doing something rather than just talking about it.”
Watch Dáil proceedings live here
Previously: When The Whistle Blows