The loss of a phone belonging to the Garda Commissioner – which was sought by the tribunal investigating an alleged garda whistleblower smear campaign – has been labelled “frankly incredible.”
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the phone is one of a number sought by Justice Peter Charleton, the Supreme Court judge heading up the Disclosures Tribunal - tasked with investigating whether whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by senior garda management.
The missing phone was in Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan’s possession around the time it is claimed the alleged smear campaign took place – between 2013 and 2014.
Opposition TDs last night demanded an explanation from the commissioner as to how such a potentially crucial piece of evidence could have been misplaced - with Labour Party TD, Alan Kelly calling the revelations “quite frankly incredible.”
“It raises so many questions about the behaviour of senior management in the Gardaí,” he said. “It also raises serious questions over what level of co-operation Garda Management will give to the Charleton Enquiry.”
“It raises even further questions about the competence of Garda Management.”
Undermining the tribunal
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Mick Clifford, special correspondent with The Irish Examiner said the fact that the phone has gone missing is “highly significant,” adding that, “to some extent it undermines the tribunal.”
“This is very unfortunate, as you can imagine, because quite obviously the tribunal believe, I would imagine with some justification, that there could well be evidence on there that might be relevant to the tribunal,” he said.
A phone used by the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is also missing alongside handsets used by other garda witnesses.
Justice Charleton sought possession of the phones as well as Sim cards and documents outlining call logs, text messages, data and emails concerning a number of garda whistleblower controversies in an order served on Garda Headquarters.
Garda sources told The Sunday Times that the missing phones and Sim cards are unlikely to be found.
The revelations come after the Fennelly Commission – which examined the sequence of events leading up to the retirement of former-Commissioner Callinan – heard that eight to 10 black bags of papers were shredded on the day he left office.
While the commission did eventually receive Commissioner Callinan’s phone, it did not receive his Sim card – and was left unable to retrieve the contents of the vast majority of his text messages.
"The commission can only speculate as to whether any information of value to its investigations was lost because of these actions," Justice Fennelly said in his report.
Sloppy or deliberate
Mr Clifford said the ongoing mishaps could be interpreted as a “microcosm of so many of the problems around the gardaí that have emerged in last few years, where you have, ‘was it conspiracy or cock-up?’”
“Either it is sloppy or deliberate,” he said.
He warned that concerns remain over the unit that is in charge of furnishing evidence to the Charleton Commission.
“What you have now is a kind of an ad-hoc unit that is operating out of garda headquarters,” he said.
“It is staffed with some current and some retired members, all of whom are recognisably believed to be close to the commissioner.
“So you have three or four of these retired and serving senior officers effectively [acting] as some form of a clearing house for material that goes through this ad-hoc unit before being passed on to the tribunal.”
Deputy Kelly said the two retired gardaí were never approved by government or the Policing Authority.
“There was no interview or procurement process,” he said. “We don't know why they were picked or indeed whether they are the appropriate people.”
“We also don't know what contracts they have been given and how much they'll cost.
“We also don't know if the two serving Gardaí are the appropriate Gardaí to be on such a Group or whether they were have conflicts from previously being involved in any of the issues Charleton is inquiring into.”
The Disclosures Tribunal has published a schedule of five public hearings set to take place over the coming months.
Judge Charleton plans to conclude hearing evidence by the end of the year - with an outline of the work completed thus far expected in mid-June.