Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan has denied ordering lawyers to attack the good name of a whistleblower within her ranks.
But she said it was not unreasonable, improper or avoidable to “appropriately test and cross examine” the allegations of Sergeant Maurice McCabe in the latest State inquiry into Garda wrongdoing.
Ms O’Sullivan has come under intense pressure to explain her role in reported orders to lawyers to undermine the credibility of Sgt McCabe, which were leaked in recent weeks.
The vast majority of his claims of negligence and malpractice were proven in the O’Higgins report, which also found him to be a man of integrity who should be thanked for his whistle-blowing.
In a statement, the Garda Commissioner said the leaked documents on instructions to her lawyers were “selective” and threatened public confidence in her force being damaged in a very unfair way.
Furthermore, she said she was legally restrained from dealing fully with the accusations because evidence to the O’Higgins Commission was confidential as are instructions between lawyers and their clients.
“However, I can confirm that An Garda Siochana’s legal team was not at any stage instructed to impugn the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe or to make a case that he was acting maliciously,” she said.
But charges that the credibility and motivation of Sgt McCabe were challenged are “the most difficult to deal with sensitively”, she added.
“Having regard to the nature and seriousness of the allegations, and the duty to assist the commission in its task of establishing the facts and truth, I cannot see how it would be in any way unreasonable, improper or avoidable to appropriately test and cross examine the evidence of all persons giving evidence to the commission including Sergeant McCabe,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
“The commission found, in relation to certain allegations; these hurtful allegations to be unfounded and in at least one case based on a belief, but unsupported by evidence, and that those against whom such complaints were made lived for many years under the strain of those allegations.”
The Garda chief said she has a duty to all her rank and file as well as former members.
Ms O’Sullivan has asked for the force’s official watchdog, the Garda Ombudsman, to launch a public interest investigation into claims two senior officers misrepresented a meeting with Sgt McCabe in 2008 in their evidence to the commission.
She has also agreed to work with Transparency Ireland to make sure whistleblowers within her ranks are “welcomed and protected” in future, she said.
A “protected disclosures manager” has also been appointed to the force.
“The O’Higgins Commission Report presents inescapable lessons for An Garda Siochana, based on our shortcomings in a number of critical areas including our dealings with whistleblowers,” she said.
“We must radically and permanently change that pattern and we will apply the insights and learnings from our recent experiences in developing a Garda Whistleblower’s Charter.”
Ms O’Sullivan is expected to be cross-examined on the controversy by the Policing Authority on Thursday.
Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Fein’s justice spokesman, said Ms O’Sullivans’s statement failed to clarify her instructions to her legal team regarding Sgt McCabe.
“It is abundantly clear that, due to the wording of the legislation in question, the Garda Commissioner is not precluded from providing this clarification,” he added.
“Instead, the Garda Commissioner has chosen to point to the fact that she believes it would be unfair to address the partial transcripts in the public domain, yet goes on to state that her legal team was not instructed to ‘impugn the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe’.
“Further on, Commissioner O’Sullivan suggests that it would not have been ‘unreasonable or improper’ for such an approach to be taken in the name of cross-examination, implying that she did not do what is alleged but that if she had, this would have been acceptable.
“This is basic semantics. First, legislation was used as a shield to hide behind, and now, it is basic wordplay being used to attempt to bury the issue.”