Government rallies behind Garda Commissioner

A number of government ministers have condemned Labour Leader Brendan Howlin for raising fresh allegations against Commissioner O'Sullivan in the Dáil

Government rallies behind Garda Commissioner

Frances Fitzgerald. Picture by Niall Carson PA Archive/PA Images

A number of leading government ministers have come out in support of the Garda Commissioner following allegations she was involved in a smear campaign against a garda whistleblower.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin told the house yesterday that he had information suggesting Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan had contacted journalists to make serious allegations against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Ministers Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney and Shane Ross have all backed the commissioner and questioned whether Deputy Howlin should have used Dáil privilege to raise the allegations - which remain unproven.

However, Fine Gael TD for Wexford, Michael Darcy has broken ranks with his government colleagues and backed Deputy Howlin's calls for the commissioner to stand aside:

"I have to put on the record that I don't believe the commissioner," he said. "And there is a circumstance and a reasoning behind why I don't believe the commissioner."

"I don't believe her because of her actions; because of her actions and how she instructed her legal council on how to deal with the O'Neill investigation."

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning Deputy Howlin insisted the allegations against the commissioner were “important enough” to put in the public domain. 

He said he had decided to speak out because it is “inappropriate” for the commissioner to stay in her role while the inquiry is ongoing.

No finding of wrongdoing

The Dáil will this afternoon approve the terms of reference for a full official investigation into the scandal and Ms Fitzgerald said the commissioner is entitled to remain in her job until the findings are revealed:

“What is at issue here - and I want to say this - is a series of allegations which have not yet been tested and which I have to repeat again are wholly denied by the people against whom they are made - so I don’t believe there is a need for anyone to step aside in that context,” she said.

“It is easy for members to come into this House to make allegations – even where they are described as not being allegations - against someone who is not here to defend themselves.

“We have to remember that the truth or otherwise of allegations is not determined by their seriousness or their frequency, but by the facts.

“Establishing those facts, without fear or favour, is what I am determined should happen.” 

She said “some people” in the house “appear to believe that the making of serious allegations against someone, which have not been tested in any way, is a sufficient basis to expect someone to step aside.”

“There has been absolutely no finding of wrongdoing against the Garda Commissioner and I believe in those circumstances she is entitled to our full confidence,” she said.

Grateful claims were aired

Standing to defend his role in bringing the alleged campaign into public view, Deputy Howlin said Sergeant McCabe was grateful the claims had been aired:

“He is of course aware, in specific detail, of all the allegations made against him,” he said.

“He has been aware of them and he and his family have tried to live with them for a number of years and I glad to be able to inform the house that he has expressed gratitude for my intervention yesterday and in no way regards it as having been damaging in any way to him.”

The Housing Minister Simon Coveney said Deputy Howlin should not have made use of Dáil privilege without clear proof or wrongdoing by the commissioner.

“Allegations of this type should be allowed to be assessed and investigated fairly in the context of that commission,” he said.

“I think there are times when it is appropriate to use Dáil privilege but I don’t think that Brendan Howlin was right to use that privilege yesterday in the way that he did.”

No reason to stand aside

He backed the Tánaiste’s position that there is no reason for the commissioner to stand aside unless found guilty by the inquiry.

“I think if she were to step aside that may well be an admission of some wrongdoing and I think that would be unfair from her perspective,” he said

“I think a lot of people would draw conclusions from her stepping aside which may well prove to be very unfair to her so I would rather leave a very experienced judge to put a report together having looked at all of the evidence and having spoken to all of the people he needs to speak to.”

Transport Minister Shane Ross said it was a “pity” and “unfair for both the commissioner and the whistleblower” that Deputy Howlin had chosen to raise the allegations in the Dáil.

He said forcing the commissioner to stand aside would set a dangerous precedent.

“You could get into a situation where people could make allegations about anybody and they would have to stand aside from their jobs till a decision was made or a verdict was given,” he said. “I think that would be wrong and it would be absurd.”

The debate is ongoing in the house and the Tánaiste has confirmed the scope of the inquiry could be widened based on what is discussed in the house.

A vote on the terms of reference of the inquiry is unlikely to take place today.