Garda Inspectorate urged to probe treatment of whistleblowers over McCabe case
The Garda Inspectorate has been called on to investigate how whistleblowers are treated on the back of alleged attempts to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Transparency International Ireland, which promotes the fight against corruption, said an independent body is needed to examine the experience of officers who expose wrongdoing in the ranks.
The organisation also said the oversight body was best placed to recommend how to stop whistleblowers being victimised.
John Devitt, chief executive of TI Ireland, said he was seriously concerned at detail of exchanges from leaked transcripts of the O’Higgins Commission where the Garda Commissioner’s lawyers said they would criticise Sgt McCabe.
“The O’Higgins Commission observed that Sergeant McCabe had reason to believe that he was being ‘set up’ and wrongly faced disciplinary action in response to concerns he raised about Garda malpractice,” he said.
“The recently leaked testimony to the Commission that appeared to question the integrity and motivation of Sergeant McCabe also poses serious questions about commitments to respect and protect whistleblowers.
“The O’Higgins Commission did not inquire into these matters further and it’s for this reason that we believe a more thorough examination of current management practices and whistleblower protection procedures is required.”
Mr Devitt, who has spoken regularly to Sgt McCabe as he exposed bad policing and negligence among colleagues in the Cavan and Monaghan district, urged the Garda Inspectorate to assess current attitudes to whistleblowers among gardai.
He also said it should look at a sample of cases and circumstances where officers reported malpractice but subsequently alleged being faced with formal or informal sanctions for doing so.
Mr Devitt said Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan could partially answer some of the questions by clarifying what instructions she gave her lawyer.
To date Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Commissioner have refused to go down that road insisting that it would be illegal but their opponents claim there is no law to stop the police chief revealing her orders.
Leaked transcripts claim to show that the barrister initially backed an assessment by the commissioner chair, Judge Kevin O’Higgins, that the Commissioner’s case was that Sgt McCabe acted with “malice”.
Further documents allege the lawyer clarified that he had made an error in saying the case was to attack Sgt McCabe’s “integrity” but that it was to challenge the respected officer’s “motivation and credibility”.
Mr Devitt said the Commissioner should clear up what the basis was for these instructions.
“She should also make it clear to all members of the service that any attempt to victimise whistleblowers or fabricate evidence against them will be met with fair but swift disciplinary action,” he said.
A statement from the Commissioner on the controversy has been expected – the second in a week.
“Whistleblowers from every walk of life routinely face sanctions including unwarranted disciplinary action, reassignment of duties, the sharing of false and damaging information against them, unfair dismissal and other forms of maltreatment,” Mr Devitt said.
“It’s important therefore that all employers understand the essential role whistleblowers play in exposing wrongdoing and have procedures in place to prevent harm to anyone who speaks up.”
Whistleblowers are supported by law under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
Since it came into force TI Ireland’s Speak Up helpline has seen a 100% increase in the number of calls received from whistleblowers with the majority from health workers.