From top: Independents 4 Change TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at an Oireachtas committee meeting this morning
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and other senior gardaí appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality this morning.
Their appearance followed reports of the two protected disclosures made by Sgt Maurice McCabe and former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor.
It’s been reported that Supt Taylor has admitted he was central to a smear campaign orchestrated by Garda management to destroy Sgt McCabe’s name and character, and that former garda commissioner Martin Callinan knew what was happening, as did his successor Noirin O’Sullivan, who was then a deputy commissioner.
Supt Taylor has alleged the campaign included text messages; the creation of an intelligence file on Sgt McCabe; the monitoring of his activities on Pulse, and making false allegations about him to both members of the media and politicians.
It’s also been repaired that Supt Taylor has claimed there is evidence of the campaign on his phone, or phones, that were subsequently seized as part of a separate investigation.
Readers will also recall that on January 24, 2014 – six days before Sgt McCabe gave testimony in private to the Public Accounts Committee – Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness met then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in the car park of Bewley’s Hotel on the Naas Road for a secret meeting, at which Mr Callinan told Mr McGuinness that Sgt McCabe could not be trusted.
It’s been reported that it was Mr Callinan who sought the meeting with Mr McGuinness.
Speaking of the meeting, Mr McGuinness told the Dail:
The Garda Commissioner confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.
The vile stories that circulated about Garda McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda, were absolutely appalling.
In addition, on RTE’s Morning Ireland on Monday, the solicitor of another Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison, Trevor Collins spoke to Cathal MacCoille, saying:
“[Harrison] has suffered and the victimisation, the intimidation, the ostracization that is ongoing… what I can say, without going into detail, is he has been the subject of surveillance, he has suffered victimisation, bullying harassment, as has his family. There has been a dissemination of rumour and innuendo which has been solely designed to undermine his credibility and that has been circulated within certain members of the media, certain politicians and his Garda colleagues.”
Mr Collins also highlighted how different Garda whistleblowers have suffered similar mistreatment and that Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald’s appointment of former High Court judge Justice Iarlaith O’Neill – to review Sgt McCabe and Supt Taylor’s claims – is a flawed inquiry if it doesn’t include the allegations of other whistleblowers.
Further to this… from this morning’s Oireachtas committee meeting:
Clare Daly: “Commissioner, you said you weren’t privy to any information about allegations of mistreatment of whistleblowers, that your knowledge was very much based on what was in the public commentary and, from what you’ve heard, but is that statement not contradicted by the fact that legal counsel for one of the whistleblowers wrote directly to you 14 times over a two-year period, outlining a litany of direct experiences that he had had in terms of surveillance, intimidation, and all the rest of it?”
Noirin O’Sullivan: ” Deputy, as you will be aware, I’m precluded from talking about individual cases but what I can say, in general cases, as I have said earlier, each individual’s experience is different, we are dealing with each individual separately and as an individual and, indeed with their representatives or their legal teams who raise issues with us and all of those are being addressed. We are in the process of retaining a professional expert to review all of these and indeed our experience to date is, because of the, as I say, these are single figure numbers, but nevertheless, each individual’s experience is so different, that actually what we believe is, the professional expert can help us to review our internal structures, our internal process and our approach to things. If there’s areas that we can strengthen, we’re very open to strengthening those but perhaps it is time for a consideration to be given to some kind of an independent entity where all of these issues go to and that people can have some reassurance that there is somebody independently looking at all of these matters and then that we ensure that the internal structures are there to strengthen and support individual needs.”
Daly: “I’ve no intention of going into details on any individual cases but my question was is it the case, that you received direct contact on 14 occasions from a legal counsel, of one of the whistleblowers stating, and giving very specific information which I won’t give here, outlining his negative experiences as a whistleblower?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, again, I’m not able in this forum, in a public forum, to go into individual cases. I think it would be grossly unfair to individuals.”
Daly: “And I’m not asking you to do that, Commissioner. I’m just asking you could you confirm that you received 14 direct communications from legal counsel in relation to these matters. I think it’s a valid question, chair?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy I have specific obligations under the Protected Disclosures Act, as the employer, to protect the individuals and to protect the identity of individuals and I am not in a position to answer any specific questions in relation to any specific individual or any specific correspondence received in relation to an individual, other than to say that every individual’s case is being treated individually and that we have structures in place to deal with that.”
Daly: “I’m not asking you, Commissioner, to detail any details about an individual case, but I am perfectly entitled to put a question, in terms of, particularly in the context of O’Higgins [inquiry], of the public assurances that we’ve got from your offices that the Garda Siochana are a safe place for people to come forward with information when that public, I suppose, statement is contradicted by other issues – we’ve a right to tease that out and I’d just like to ask you again – …are you perfectly happy to reiterate your statement that you are not privy to any specific allegations involving mistreatment of people who’ve come forward as whistleblowers?”
O’Sullivan: “I don’t think my answer to Deputy [Jim] O’Callaghan was in respect of allegations because I obviously have heard the public commentary in respect of allegations that have been made but I don’t think it is fair or even just to say that all that one has to do is look at what we have put into place, in an effort to support and to support our determination to ensure that people can bring forward facts. And I think the evidence speaks for itself in terms of the structures that have been put in place, in terms of the systems that have been put in place and in terms of the efforts that have been put in place. But without going into individual cases, I cannot go into individual cases and I’m sure …”
Daly: “Nobody has asked you, nobody has asked you to go into individual cases but there has been a huge amount of public statements, and you’ve done it again today to say that you are not privy to any of these complaints, if you like, or more specific examples that are in the public domain, I’m just asking you to either: it’s kind of a yes or no – can you confirm that you are aware or you’re not. Because you’ve said you’re not privy to it. My evidence is that you are but I mean, if you’re telling us you’re not, I’ll move on but could you just tell us whether you are or you’re not.”
O’Sullivan: “Well deputy what I did say was I’m not privy to, nor did I approve, nor would I condone any campaign of harassment or any campaign to malign any individual employee.”
Daly: “So you’re not aware of any circumstances where such claims would have been made, that hasn’t been brought to your attention?”
O’Sullivan: “That isn’t what I’m saying, deputy, what I’m saying is that I, personally, was not privy to, nor would I approve, nor would I condone any campaign against any individual.”
Daly: “So if you had been made aware, of any such allegations, what action would you have taken to deal with that situation?”
O’Sullivan: “Any issues that are brought to our attention by any individual are fully addressed and that is the case in terms of all of the individuals, have brought matters to our attention, or indeed any member of any representative of any individual, those issues are being addressed in the structures and the processes that we have there. As I say we are in the process of retaining an independent, professional expert to review those processes and it may indeed need to go beyond that but we can only do what we can do internally and what we have control of and that is why we have somebody independently being retained review either areas that can be strengthened, recognising that individual needs are different.”
Daly: “If everything is improving, you’ve said that the numbers of whistleblowers are single figures, could you explain maybe why all of those single figures, five at least, if not more, are presently out sick and have been on protracted sick leave for a period of time because of work-related stress.”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, again, and I’m very conscience that we are speaking about single figure numbers and, even by extension, that could serve to identify individuals and I’m precluded from speaking about individual cases and, as the employer, I have a duty of care to all of the individuals and their circumstances but there are systems in place to support and to help the individuals concerned.”
Daly: “It’s very difficult to get an answer, chair.”
Daly: “I mean, obviously, some incredibly serious issues were raised here this morning and I do think that clarity is actually critical and I note Commissioner that, on a number of occasions, that you said that you weren’t privy to, nor aware of, nor approved any campaign to target whistleblowers and I’d just really like you to be concise around some of these issues, yes or no preferably. Like, is it your assertion that you were never directly made aware of any such allegations in relation to the targeting of whistleblowers?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, I can only repeat what I said. I am not privy to, nor would I approve, nor did I approve, nor would I condone, any actions such as targeting any individuals other than individuals engaged in criminal activity in the sense of targeting that we spoke about earlier.”
Daly: “Okay. I note you’re reluctance to answer again so maybe I’ll help by partly answering for you. I’m aware that you were directly made aware – I have the correspondence and your replies in my folder here – in relation to allegations of precisely such, a campaign of targeting in relation to whistleblowers. So what I’d like to know is what actions did you take on foot of hearing about those allegations?”
O’Sullivan: “Well deputy I’m sure you will appreciate that I’m not aware of neither who the disclosures are, the content of the disclosures, or the allegations that you are suggesting and in such circumstances it would not only be inappropriate but it would be impossible to comment.”
Daly: “I’m sorry, Commissioner, but I didn’t actually ask you to comment on any individual cases at all. I think that would be inappropriate, I was talking about the general processes which I think are incredibly fair questions, in the context of the seriousness of what is the case. And particularly, in light of your comments, that the system is changing, when really, on a fairly regular basis, evidence is being produced to say that things aren’t changing. And I’m wondering how you can, if you like, square that circle?”
O’Sullivan: “Well I cannot comment on something which I have not seen, I am not aware of and I think that there is a process that is being set up where there will be fair procedure and due process provided and Mr Justice O’Neill can address any issues arising from that.”
Daly: “I would just like to put on the record, chair, that I have seen that you have seen these allegations and, in that sense, I find your response quite upsetting actually in many ways. But I wonder maybe the last question that you could answer: how do you explain, if you’re not aware of any of these allegations, and yet these allegations are there and they exist both in terms of documented proof going back over years and, as you said yourself, huge conversation in the public domain, if you’re not aware of that and yet they still continue, is that not a huge problem? Particularly as they’re continuing in different parts of the country, in different regions. Supposedly, without any of your knowledge, is the issue really then that you have no authority amongst your members? That they’re flagrantly doing the opposite of what you’re telling them to do? And does that not put your position in jeopardy?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, I’m not in a position to comment, or indeed should I comment, or it’s impossible to comment on unsubstantiated allegations which are put into the public domain by elected representatives and others. And I’m very much aware of the unsubstantiated allegations which are in the public domain, I’m also aware that a process has been established where all of these matters can be afforded due process and fair procedure, to allow for proper examination of all these matters and I will fully cooperate, as will An Garda Siochana with that process.”
Mick Wallace: “Commissioner, did you admit that you gave instructions to challenge the credibility and motivation of Sgt McCabe, in relation to the O’Higgins report and my second questions, and I may have missed it, I don’t know, over the last couple of years, but you were sitting beside the former Commissioner Callinan when he described the whistleblowers [Sgt Maurice McCabe and Garda John Wilson] as disgusting. And I’m just wondering minister, Commissioner did you ever disassociate yourself from those remarks?”
O’Sullivan: “Well, firstly, deputy, the O’Higgins Commission which was your first question: At all times, my interactions with my legal advisors were based on legal advice and, as you know, there is lawyer-client privilege pertains to every citizen of this State, and including the Garda Commissioner and, as such, I cannot comment on any interactions between me and my legal advice and that is what my advice is. Secondly, in relation to my sitting alongside my predecessor, former commissioner Martin Callinan, a lot of play has been made of that issue and, you know again that was an interaction at a Dail committee, I am record as saying that the choice of words was unfortunate and what I actually wrote to the Commissioner Callinan was to withdraw those remarks because I do not believe they were said in the way that they came across.”
Separately but also during Ms O’Sullivan’s appearance, Cork Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O’Brien asked Ms O’Sullivan some very direct questions…
Mr O’Brien (above right) started by asking Ms O’Sullivan if she knew of any whistleblowers being put under surveillance.
From their exchange…
O’Sullivan: “Am I aware of any…”
Jonathan O’Brien: “Whistleblowers being put under surveillance?”
O’Sullivan: “Absolutely not, deputy.”
O’Brien: “Ok, are you aware of any intelligence files being opened in relation to whistleblowers?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, I’m aware of suggestions in the media, and in public commentary, but I am personally not aware.”
O’Brien: “You spoke, in relation to electronic materials which will be handed over if Justice O’Neill requires it. Can I ask is it one, two or three phones which were confiscated from the whistleblower [Supt Dave Taylor]?”
O’Sullivan: “I don’t think it’s appropriate, we have a number of ongoing live investigations and I don’t think it’s appropriate deputy to speak about individual investigations.”
O’Brien: “But will they be handed over?”
O’Sullivan: “Absolutely, every assistance and any requirement of Justice O’Neill will be fully met by An Garda Siochana.”
O’Brien: “And if there are intelligence files in relation to whistleblowers, will they also be handed over?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, I believe there are no intelligence files but if Mr Justice O’Neill requires any access to any area of An Garda Siochana, he will be made fully aware, given full access.”
O’Brien: “Will you undertake to find out if there are any intelligence files in relation to whistleblowers?”
O’Sullivan: “I am not aware of any intelligence files, deputy.”
O’Brien: “Will you ask if there are any intelligence files?”
O’Sullivan: “I can certainly ask but we do not, and I must state this categorically, protected disclosures are relatively a new phenomenon, we do not keep intelligence files. I hope you’ve heard form my colleagues here today, we have enough activities to keep us very busy and creating intelligence files on people who are causing harm to communities.”
O’Brien: “Are you aware of the content of the meeting between the Commissioner Callinan and Deputy John McGuinness?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, the first I became aware of that meeting, of the fact that even a meeting took place, was in the media. I am not aware and I have not been aware up to reading it in the media of any interaction between Deputy Commissioner, or sorry, former Commissioner Callinan and Deputy McGuinness in a car park.”
O’Brien: “So you’re not aware of any content which was discussed at that meeting?”
O’Sullivan: “Absolutely not.”
O’Brien: “Have you considered temporarily stepping aside as Commissioner while Justice O’Neill carries out his review? Given that there are a number of allegations that you had knowledge of a campaign to discredit a whistleblower?”
O’Sullivan: “Well, firstly, deputy, what I will do is reiterate my statement, I was not privy to, nor did I approve, nor would I condone any campaign against any individual….”
Previously: ‘A Flawed Inquiry From The Very Outset’