Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett
You’ll recall how Seán Guerin SC examined allegations of Garda malpractice, on foot of claims made by Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Following the report’s publication, it was decided that a Commission of Investigation into allegations regarding the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division should take place. The report also prompted former Justice Minister Alan Shatter to take a High Court action in a bid to get some of Guerin’s findings reversed.
Earlier this week, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett said a Dáil debate on the commission of investigation into the Cavan/Monaghan Garda division couldn’t take place as it was before the courts and out of order – prompting claims from the Opposition that Alan Shatter was trying to ‘muzzle’ the Dáil.
This morning, Fiach Kelly of the Irish Times reports:
“Former minister for justice Alan Shatter asked Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett to rule out his handling of claims made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe from an inquiry into allegations of Garda malpractice. In correspondence seen by The Irish Times, Mr Shatter argued that the inclusion of references to his handling of Sgt McCabe’s claims would interfere with or prejudice a High Court action he is taking.”
Further to this, Mr Barrett spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One this morning, as she sat in for Seán O’Rourke.
Sean Barrett: “Because Alan Shatter has already a case pending in the courts, which is due to be heard on the 12th of April, I understand, in the High Court, he could seek an injunction and the choice that was left to me was it’s not my business what’s in the terms of reference, that’s a matter for the Government. My only involvement was whether, under standing orders, I would allow for the motion to be put to the house without debate so that the Guerin investigation can go ahead immediately. Or take a chance, and have a debate on the terms of reference and something would happen and we could end up in the courts.”
Miriam O’Callaghan: “OK but Seán Barrett…”
Barrett: “The thing is, if you don’t mind, I just want to explain this because I’ve been misrepresented so I took the decision, based on the advice given to me, that the best thing to do would be to have the motion put to the house, without debate, so that the Guerin investigation could be set up immediately without any fear. And that’s what’s happened. And the motion was put and was passed.”
O’Callaghan: “OK, let me come back in there for one moment, Seán Barrett.”
Barrett: “Sure yeah.”
O’Callaghan: “You know and I know that not having a debate on a motion is unusual and however you dress it up, the fact that a personal letter from Alan Shatter to you, earlier this week, argued that the motion would be an actual attempt by the Dáil to encroach on the function of the courts. Whatever Alan Shatter is saying, at the end of the day, it looks like you got a personal letter and you bowed to his wishes.”
Barrett: “No, no, no. That’s not…I got no personal letter. The letters I received was as Ceann Comhairle. Alan Shatter wrote back in November about this matter and I didn’t reply because I had no terms of reference. I’m being dragged into this because this is a governmental matter. Not, for me as Ceann Comhairle, my only involvement is procedural and I have a responsibility to the people of this country that an investigation that was being set up should go ahead and, after that, it’s over to the persons carrying out the investigation and witnesses to deal with and produce a report.”
O’Callaghan: “But the letter..Ceann Comhairle, let me come back in for a moment, just let me come back in for a moment..”
Barrett: “There’s an implication that I would be influenced by some letter. I was not influenced by any letter.”
O’Callaghan: “But at the end of the day, Ceann Comhairle, the letter, on behalf of Alan Shatter, from Brian Gallagher, representing him suggested that the debate and the motion should not go ahead for legal reasons.”
Barrett: “But they didn’t want any debate because they didn’t want his, his name included in the terms of reference – that was the issue that they had.”
O’Callaghan: “It looks like you bowed to pressure from them.”
Barrett: “No I certainly did not bow to pressure from anybody and that’s where the unfairness is coming in. They wanted Alan Shatter’s name deleted from the terms of reference, that was a matter for the Government not for me. The argument about a debate was simply about the terms of reference and whether the Dáil should proceed with the investigation, that was it. And I took, in the interest of the public, in the interest of parliament, I decided, on the advice I was given, that the best thing to do was to allow the motion to be put to the chamber without debate ’cause it was only a technical debate on the actual terms of reference so that the matter could proceed. Now that’s all my involvement was. Letters to me are irrelevant…”
O’Callaghan: “Did you consider…Seán, sorry, did you consider maybe telling the Dáil about the letter?”
Barrett: “Sure I get letters every day of the week. I..”
O’Callaghan: “Ah now…”
Barrett: “No, hold a second, this was not a personal letter to me. It was addressed to the Ceann Comhairle. Not a letter to Seán Barrett. It was a letter to the Ceann Comhairle…”
O’Callaghan: “But the Irish Times says …
Barrett: “…from a solicitor asking me to do something that I had no involvement in. My only involvement…”
O’Callaghan: “OK, but Seán, the Irish Times, can I just say, the Irish Times is reporting today, in a personal letter to you earlier this week, ‘Mr Shatter argued that the motion would be “an actual attempt by the Dáil to encroach on the function of the courts”.”
Talk over each other
Barrett: “The Irish Times has represented something very unfairly…”
O’Callaghan: “Is that correct or incorrect?”
Barrett: “The Irish Times have reported incorrectly, the Irish Times, they were briefed by the officials inside of Leinster House yesterday, to clear up this matter because…to be honest with you, it’s grossly unfair and misleading to the public what’s going on in the newspapers about this matter. Attempts are being made to suggest that I was influenced in some way in the performance of my duty. That is totally and utterly untrue.”
O’Callaghan: “And I hear you but Seán Barrett, can you see how it would look wrong?”
Barrett: “I’m not interested in how it looks, I’m interested in the facts. I’m interested in going on your radio programme to tell the public that I took a decision in the interest of them, the public, so that an investigation can proceed immediately without hauling, the possibility of the Houses of the Oireachtas being hauled to the High Court and this matter being delayed and thousands and thousands of euros being spent on legal fees. That’s the simple truth. Whether people want to believe that or not – I can’t do anymore about it but I just wanted to let the people know what the true position, as far as I am concerned is and why I took the decision.”
Barrett: “I am not influenced by letters. I take decisions in accordance with the Standing Orders of Leinster House and Standing Order 57 (3) allows for what I did yesterday, or the other day, and I stand over that in the interest of the public.”
Previously: What’s Going On In Athlone?
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Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland