Public Accounts Committee meeting, Leinster House, Dublin 2
I am fascinated by [Sinn Féin TD] Jonathan O’Brien’s sleeve tattoo…
Eye of Ra?
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’
From top: Mary Lynch on Claire Byrne Live last night and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the Dáil this afternoon
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald fielded questions from Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien further to the reports that Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s senior counsel told the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation into Sgt Maurice McCabe’s complaints – that McCabe told two officers he was acting out of malice.
The allegation was proven to be false after Sgt McCabe produced a recording of his conversation with the two Gardai – and the matter wasn’t included in the final report.
Before Ms Fitzgerald took questions from Mr O’Brien, she mentioned the victims whose experiences were looked at by the O’Higgins commission – including that of taxi driver Mary Lynch who appeared on last night’s Claire Byrne Live on RTE One.
However, Ms Fitzgerald called her by the wrong name.
Ms Lynch was viciously assaulted by Jerry McGrath who was released on bail before Ms Lynch had made a statement. McGrath went on to attempt to abduct a five-year-old girl and received bail again. He then went on to kill Sylvia Roche Kelly.
Ms Fitzgerald said:
“It is disheartening to read of the experiences of victims. We saw Mary Lyons [sic] last night on RTE and we can see the horror that was visited upon her and indeed other victims.”
Following questions from Mr O’Brien, Ms Fitzgerald said:
Frances Fitzgerald: “I believe we shouldn’t lose sight of the central fact that at the heart of the report are the victims who were let down. I think that’s a very key point for all of us to note. And I think our central focus should be on doing everything possible to make sure what is outlined in those investigations doesn’t happen again.”
“There are severe constraints on what I can say about claims that have appeared in the media, under the Commission of Investigation Act of 2004, which formed the legal basis for putting the commission in place.”
“And I have a duty to respect the law and that duty is not diminished by the fact that some media reports have appeared, you know, purporting to set out a small part of what may or may not have been said.”
“I would obviously refer to the statement from Garda Commission Noirin O’Sullivan where she comments on her response to the report and says that she accepts it in full and has put as much information into the public domain as she can do – saying that she’s legally precluded under Section 11, saying any further and I would just reiterate what she said in relation to Sgt Maurice McCabe’s contribution – that it is valued and that the service is changed for the better in response to the points and the issues about which he complained.”
Jonathan O’Brien: “Thank you, minister. Minister the statement last night of clarity actually clarifies nothing in my opinion. And I think there is an issue here which needs to be clarified. Because we have a situation where we have media reports stating that they’ve seen documentation which alleges that the Garda Commissioner instructed her legal team to insinuate malice on behalf of Sgt McCabe. Now if that is the case then somebody, in my opinion, calls into question her credibility. Because is she saying one thing in public and another thing in private to her legal team, then there’s an issue. Now, the other scenario is that this documentation may not be legitimate and if that’s the case then you have a situation where somebody close to the Commission, more than likely close to the Commission has passed on documentation knowingly that is not factual and one can only presume that somebody would do that to undermine the Garda Commissioner herself…”
Meanwhile, from RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live last night – after Ms Lynch recalled how she was attacked and how the gardaí handled her case…
Claire Byrne: “Has anyone contacted you – this Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan? The previous Garda Commissioner Callinan?”
Mary Lynch: “No.”
Byrne: “This minister for justice, Frances Fitzgerald?”
Lynch: “No. Nobody.”
Byrne: “Minister Shatter before her?”
Lynch: “No, and I’d love to talk to some of them. I would love to talk to both of them actually. I’d like to know why nobody has been made accountable for what happened. Nobody like. Everybody walks away with their hands clean.”
Watch Claire Byrne Live back in full here
Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien and Tánaiste Joan Burton during Leaders’ Questions yesterday
You’ll recall the death of Jonathan Corrie on December 1 last. His body was found less than 50m from the Dáil on Molesworth Street.
His death prompted Taoiseach Enda Kenny to spend three hours on the streets of Dublin, meeting homeless people. Junior Minister Alan Kelly then announced that 260 extra beds would be made available to the homeless before Christmas. Mr Kelly also promised that a bed would be available for every single homeless person in Dublin.
Yesterday, Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan raised the subject of homelessness, addiction and the provision of beds – in light of the Government’s moves before Christmas.
“When discussing this before Christmas, I stressed the need to commit to supported drug-free accommodation for those in recovery in order that they would not have to mix with those who are actively using. One such facility not far from here was described by the 18 persons in recovery there as having been a rock of stability, but because of pressure to take homeless persons off the street, which is very important, there has been a reconfiguration and that accommodation is no longer drug free. The changing of the culture to a mixed one has undermined the recovery journey of those in the facility, especially those who are at the early stages of recovery.”
“I take no pleasure in saying that what has happened has been disastrous. As a result of that reconfiguration, there is now widespread heroin use. There is dealing and chaotic behaviour. There are multiple relapses. There has been at least one serious overdose and there are debt issues as well. In spite of all of these warnings being brought to the attention of Ministers, Dublin City Council and the HSE, in spite of findings from a report on homelessness and addiction and in spite of recommendations from the users’ forum, this went ahead. I consider that a serious breach of duty of care to those in recovery.”
Later, as Tánaiste Joan Burton was responding, Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien told the Dáil his brother, a recovering heroin addict, is currently homeless and being forced to sleep in shelters with other addicts as a cap on his rent allowance is preventing him for accessing accommodation.
Joan Burton: “I very much share Deputy O’Sullivan’s view that the best resolution for an individual who has serious addiction problems is to try to get himself or herself completely clean. Given my experience down the years and knowing many who have made that journey as well as many now working in the sector, I agree that such is the best model. On the organisations which are involved in delivering the services and the decisions they make around how they approach that, something I would like to see developing more strongly is that when addicts are clean, aside from being in hostel accommodation, which should be a transitional phase…”
Róisín Shortall: “It is not, and that is the point.”
Burton: “…the hostel accommodation should recognise the stage that they are at. What should happen then is that we should seek to find homes for such persons. Not only have I been in many centres throughout the country…”
Burton: “I was in Cork before Christmas…”
Peter Mathews: “The Tánaiste is talking herself into eternity.”
Burton: “…at the invitation of Simon. Simon in Cork, if I may say so, has an excellent approach to providing long-term homes…”
A Deputy: “Does the Tánaiste want to attach it to a vow of silence?”
Burton: “…for those who have come through a certain treatment situation.”
O’Brien: “The Tánaiste does not have a clue.”
Mathews: “The Tánaiste should stop talking.”
Michael Kitt: “Quiet.”
Ray Butler: “What does Deputy Mathews mean, “Stop talking”?”
Mathews: “It is meaningless.”
Burton: “I spent last Monday talking to 15 or 16 very fine persons, as good any day as the Deputy or any of his colleagues who sit beside him…”
Bernard Durkan: “Hear, hear.”
Burton: “….who have substance problems which they are battling to overcome.”
O’Brien: “I have a brother who is homeless. He is a recovering heroin addict…”
Burton: “The Deputy should not dare lecture me.”
O’Brien: “…who cannot get accommodation because of the cap on rent allowance.”
Michael Kitt: “The Tánaiste should be allowed to continue without interruption.”
Burton: “Deputy O’Brien should not dare lecture me.”
O’Brien: ‘That is exactly what is happening.’
Kitt: “Order please.”
Burton: “Deputy O’Brien should not dare lecture me.”
O’Brien: “He has been forced to go back into a hostel where drug taking happens in front of him.”
Kitt: “The time is almost up.”
Burton: “I have just said that the approach of getting a home for people and getting people substance free is the correct approach.”
Kitt: “I thank the Tánaiste. That concludes Leaders’ Questions. We will now move on to the Order of Business.”
Eric J. Byrne: “Why does his good family not take him home?”
O’Brien: “Shut your mouth.”
Derek Keating: “A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that is completely out of order.”
Pádraig MacLochlainn: “Deputies should have a bit of common decency.”
Keating: “It is completely out of order for Deputy O’Brien to tell another Deputy to shut his mouth.”
Byrne: “What would one expect from Sinn Féin?”
Keating: “He should withdraw the remark and apologise.”
MacLochlainn: “In the circumstances, Members should have a bit of common decency and cop themselves on. The Deputy is the first one to run to the television. He should cop himself on.”
Transcript via Oireachtas.ie
Previously: The Best We Can Do
Video via Merrion Street, go to 29.27 for Maureen O’Sullivan and 39.00 for Jonathan O’Brien
— Colette Browne (@colettebrowne) January 16, 2015
Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien at the Fashion Gets Political charity show in aid of the Cork City Hospital Children’s Club, in Silver Springs Hotel in Cork last night.
He’s a natural.
Fair play, in fairness.