Also on the panel were Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland; Susan Mitchell, health correspondent of the Sunday Business Post and Liam Toland, former rugby player and now rugby analyst at The Irish Times.
During their discussion, Mr McGuinness spoke about the ‘box of evidence’ that was given to him by a Garda whistleblower which allegedly proves the State has lost millions of euro, due to the wiping of penalty points and because some summonses weren’t served.
It emerged last week that Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan – who himself has had penalty points for speeding quashed – wants the box returned to him, thus preventing PAC from investigating its contents.
John McGuinness: The interesting thing about that [the box] as well is it’s about public money, it’s about system failure. And the C&AG did a report on it, indicating what had happened in terms of the penalty points and all of that issue and I think Superintendent [John] O’Mahoney did a, or Assistant Commissioner O’Mahoney did a report and the two of them don’t stand up. One of them is wrong.”
Marian Finucane: “But, tell us the scéal, how you got it, yeah?”
McGuinness: “Going back to the box. The whistleblower gave information to the C&AG for that report.”
Finucane: “To the C&AG.”
McGuinness: “But the C&AG didn’t see this particular box that you’re talking about, Marian. The box was given to me.”
Finucane: “By whom?”
McGuinness: “By the whistleblower. I received it on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee and then the box then was given to the parliamentary adviser because we wanted to be sure that we had the right to look at this and to determine what information…”
Finucane: “Did you look at it at all, yourself?”
McGuinness: “No, because it’s, there’s a lot of files in it. It has data that really should go for examination elsewhere legally, before we touch it. And the whistleblower…”
Finucane: “What about normal curiosity?”
McGuinness: “But the whistleblower – I had to park that [curiosity] – and I had to rely on a report from the whistleblower of what was in the box.”
Finucane: “And what did the whistleblower tell you that was in the box?”
McGuinness: “That there was information there that would show that the State lost huge amounts of revenue, running into millions of euro, in relation to the wiping out of penalty points and the charges and so on. He told this, I think, to a number of ministers, he told it to the Taoiseach, he provided information, he was encouraged by Minister Shatter to bring forward the information, to ‘put up or shut up’. And he decided that, because of his reputation within the force and because of the service that he and his family had given, that he would do just that. Now he gave it to the Public Accounts Committee, on the encouragement of those letters and faxes, or emails rather, and went out. And now that that happened, the commissioner has asked for the box back. But we want to scrutinise or the C&AG, we’d like to see, scrutinise the box, to add to his already, his report which he has submitted already on this issue. And, again, it’s about independently assessing this, not to name names, but to look at the loss of revenue to the State, that’s what it’s about. It’s a culture thing, within the organisation, of the administration of the State, that they would try and prevent this from happening. It should happen and, as Shane Ross said during the Public Accounts Committee during the week, we have to ascertain what’s in the box is of relevance to that report and in the public interest and that’s what we’re talking about here.”
Liam Toland: “Is there a timeline in all of that?”
McGuinness: “We’re waiting for the advice to come back to us, we sought legal advice and counsel advice. The Commissioner, he sought his legal advice and he said he should have the box back and we don’t know about that, we want to examine it. The C&AG, by the way, he got information like this, and he wasn’t asked to give it back. So what’s the difference?”
Susan Mitchell: “But is it true, well you haven’t seen it, but is it true, or have you heard, that the stuff that’s in your box, that you haven’t looked at yet, contains material that the C&AG never actually got or never received?”
McGuinness: “Oh yes, he didn’t get this particular pile of information, it’s extra information on the back of the report that he concluded and laid before the Public Accounts Committee for examination, which we’re doing in January. But this is extra information and if there’s more information out there, then surely in the public interest someone should examine the loss of revenue to the State. It should not be given back and hidden somewhere it should not be examined by an internal audit of some description, it should be given to someone independent…”
Finucane: “Well, I mean the last time the, it was the Gardaí themselves that did the investigation and you were saying, on our previous subject, that it should be independent.”
McGuinness: “The gardaí did an examination of this issue on the back of a report but the information that was given to the C&AG for his report, which he has concluded, I think is different in certain aspects from the O’Mahoney report which was done differently. But this information is the same as what he had when he did the report, it’s different information, it’s the same type of information and it leads people to believe that there’s a considerable amount of money that has been lost to the State.”
Finucane: “What, is this whistleblower’s anonymity going to be protected because presumably he won’t be making any pals up the line?”
McGuinness: “Well, actually, he has written to the Public Accounts Committee and asked to come before us.”
Finucane: “Oh right.”
McGuinness: “…and give evidence at the hearings in January. And we’re anxious to hear from him. So, it is important that that information be examined because it’s the one single set of information that can tell us whether or not there was more going on in relation to this issue, whether the C&AG’s report is correct or whether the Assistant Commissioner’s report is correct.”
Finucane: “What level in the gardaí is this person at?”
McGuinness: “He’s a sergeant within the guards. This is not just one. I’m dealing with one whistleblower but there are a number of whistleblowers who gave information to the Comptroller and Auditor General and there’s a number of information, a number of gardaí giving information on this issue. And, as I said to you, it’s not about individuals within the force, it’s not about who got stopped…”
Finucane: “But it could become…”
McGuinness: “It could become but that’s for somebody else to deal with. For us, it’s the loss of revenue to the State.”
Colm O’Gorman: “How long has this been going on? When did this story first emerge?”
McGuinness: “It’s been going on for 12 months or more, you know, I mean I think Mick Wallace and Clare Daly raised the issue and they were rubbished a bit.”
O’Gorman: “Rubbished a lot.”
Finucane: “They were rubbished a lot.”
Mitchell: “Let’s not forget [Daly] was arrested.”
McGuinness: “The reason why the whistleblower came forward again was because he was encouraged by Minister Alan Shatter, I think, to do so, to ‘put up or shut up’. But, he felt, that he had to come forward because it still wasn’t being addressed properly.”
O’Gorman: “But isn’t that the thing, I mean, here we are, after all of the political and media frenzy about all of this, after two reports, an internal Garda report, and a C&AG report, and here we are now…”
McGuinness: “..With further, new information…”
O’Gorman: “With further new information that hasn’t yet emerged and it seems like a battle over whether or not that information should ever even be examined. One would have thought that in any kind of functional democracy there’d be mechanisms that existed to first of all make sure that these kinds of issues, which are clearly in the public interest, could be investigated and looked at, mindful of and recognising and respecting the rights of anybody involved and that system would exist. Now I understood that it did. I understood that a whistleblower, in a situation where it was believed there was a significant loss of revenue for the State, where that hadn’t been addressed in an internal process, was protected in law if they handed over information to a member of the Oireachtas.”
Talk over each other.
McGuinness: “It’s in the Garda Act 2005 and it’s in the legislation on the Data Protection Act. But if you look at whistleblowers, this individual is actually being treated very badly in his job, similarly to the whistleblower in Fás, a long time ago, who exposed the whole northeast issue. That lady is being penalised in her job, she doesn’t get any work to do and she has complained as recently as last week that, as a whistleblower she has now become the victim. So the system has now dumped on her.”
Finucane: “Yeah but that’s disgraceful.”
McGuinness: “That is disgraceful and it’ll be raised in the Dáil but the fact of the matter is that that has gone on for a long period of time so the dogs will bark and the caravan moves on, this lady has been penalised and it is only fair that that should be…”
Finucane: “Well I don’t want to identify anyone..”
O’Gorman: “There’s a link between all the stories that we’re talking about of course, which is that there seems to be a tendency through our systems of administration that if someone doesn’t want a particular issue to be looked at, they’ll go to hell and high water to prevent it from being properly looked at. They’ll leak, they’ll spin, they’ll target, they’ll attack, they’ll manipulate the law to try to prevent an appropriate examination of issues that are clearly of the public interest.”
The Irish Daily Mail (not online) reported last week how Judge Seamus Hughes criticised Dóchas Prison Governor Mary O’Connor for releasing a serial shoplifter three days into her six-month sentence, who immediately went on to reoffend.
Ms O’Connor said she released the woman because she had more inmates than cells.
But Judge Hughes accused Ms O’Connor of sending out the wrong message.
“There’s no effective deterrent for non-violent, recidivist offenders in this country. Now you have potential criminals saying ‘Ah, if I get caught, I’ll only do a couple of days’.
You may recall Judge Hughes had six penalty points for speeding wiped, while his wife also had two penalty points for speeding wiped.
The Phoenix magazine’s October 18 issue reported Judge Hughes was recorded doing 74kph in a 50kph zone in his Audi in Castlebar, Co, Mayo on March 28, 2011, but the points for the speeding were terminated on the grounds of ’emergency’. On November 7, 2011, he was recorded doing 72kph in a 50kph zone in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.
The two points for that incident were wiped on ‘humanitarian grounds’. Last September, Judge Hughes was recorded doing 69kph in a 50kph zone in Bellanagare, Co. Roscommon with these penalty points also wiped on ‘humanitarian grounds’. About a week later his wife Maria Hughes was recorded driving at 66kph in a 50kph zone at the same location. The Phoenix reported that her points were terminated for reasons that were unclear.
When The Phoenix contacted Judge Hughes, he said he wouldn’t be commenting on the matter. When the magazine asked him if he would ask his wife for a comment on her points being quashed, Judge Hughes said: ‘You’ll have to find her yourself. I am not your messenger boy’.
Previously: Your Morning Quash
Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland