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'I didn't promote my bridesmaid... I didn't have one': Nóirín O'Sullivan faces tough questions

Mick Wallace and Clare Daly were frustrated by the Commissioner’s last of clarity in some of her answers.

Updated 11.30am

COMMISSIONER NÓIRÍN O’SULLIVAN faced a tough morning of questions about her role at the top of the force today following a tumultuous week of revelations and criticisms about An Garda Síochána.

Last week in the Dáil, politicians accused her of presiding over a force mired by dysfunctionality and in the Justice & Equality Oireachtas Committee today, she faced off against independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien and others on the issues.

Wallace and Daly – who have raised the treatment of whistleblowers consistently in the Dáil for the past two years – asked multiple queries about O’Sullivan’s knowledge and treatment of gardaí who make complaints.

O’Sullivan had her stock statement ready for their line of questioning, saying she was never ‘privy to, would approve of or condone’ a campaign against any individual member of An Garda Síochána.

When she could not repeat this, she told the deputies that it would be impossible to comment on protected disclosures, especially as there was such a small number (in single figures) thus making the members identifiable.

“What I can say to the committee that from the outset, that any member has not only the right but the entitlement to come forward and raise issues of concern,” she told Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan.

Sometimes, they may not be right but they must be listened to.

During the hearing, the Commissioner was also clear that she was not aware of any intelligence file being opened on a whistleblower and that she first learned of Martin Callinan’s carpark meeting with TD John McGuinness through the media.

A frustrated Daly continued to ask questions in generalities, telling the committee’s chair that she was being careful not to ask for specific details about individual cases.

Keeping her composure, O’Sullivan kept to the same lines – that her team were working within the structures and processes in place – while admitting that her force was on a journey of cultural change that would take some time.

She also conceded that an independent body may need to be established to deal with internal complaints from gardaí.

“Every individual’s need is different… that is why we need to strengthen our structures and processes,” she said, noting that an outsider has been engaged to review current whistleblower policy.

Wallace took up questioning on management, telling the Commissioner that “a lot of people in your organisation would argue that the culture has deteriorated” since Martin Callinan left in 2014.

“What do you say to the words of many… that you have promoted a lot of people who complaints have been made about, you promoted your husband and bridesmaid, you surrounded yourself with your supporters rather than concentrating on quality?” he asked.

O’Sullivan was quick to return that there were many inaccuracies in the public domain.

“Lest, that one of them remain that I promoted my bridesmaid… because I didn’t have a bridesmaid,” she said, to chuckles.

She also said that the promotions structure within the service is independent and fair.

“I didn’t get this job easy, nor would have I expected to get it easy,” she added.

It reinforces my confidence that I am the best person for the job.

After hearing a quote – read by Daly – from a whistleblower that the ‘Garda Commissioner had messed with our lives, had messed with our families’, O’Sullivan said:

I am not in the business, as Commissioner or as Nóirín O’Sullivan, of messing with any individuals’ lives or their families.

Earlier

Last week, Wallace and Daly called for O’Sullivan to be sacked, saying she was a corrosive influence within the gardaí.

The repeated requests came after fresh protected disclosures of a very serious nature were made to the Minister for Justice by two senior gardaí.

Under whistleblower legislation, they told Frances Fitzgerald that senior management orchestrated a significant campaign to destroy the name and character of another garda whistleblower.

They allege that the campaign included:

  • Sending text messages to officers attacking the person
  • Creating an intelligence file on him
  • Monitoring his activities on the garda Pulse system
  • Briefing members of the media and politicians about him, during which false allegations would be made

The garda who made the disclosure admitted to taking part in the campaign.

Not only were these new allegations brought up today, TDs also wanted to ask about the cases of other whistleblowers, including the lesser-known Keith Harrison and Nick Keogh (without naming them).

Speaking in the Dáil last Wednesday, Daly summed up how their lives have gone since blowing the whistle:

Nevertheless, two and a half years on, this whistleblower [Nick Keogh] has been out sick for almost a year and is surviving on just over €200 per week. He has had five internal investigations drummed up against him. Medical certificates submitted that stated he was out with work-related stress were changed to indicating absence from flu. Meanwhile, the superintendent who stood over all that is on the promotions list.

“Four times one of the garda whistleblowers wrote directly to the Minister for Justice and told her of the treatment he was experiencing.

He made the point that as his colleague in a different region was getting exactly the same treatment, it could not be a coincidence and it was inconceivable that senior management and the Garda Commissioner would not be aware of it.

“Deputy Wallace and I have raised what has been happening to whistleblowers Nick Keogh and Keith Harrison – who is out for two years, surviving on a pittance with a young family – 19 times.

“His post has been opened and garda patrol cars have cruised down a lane on which he lived, 25km from the nearest garda station. The HSE has called to his children. This has all happened on Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan’s watch.”

This new burden on management and morale comes as the Garda Representative Association (GRA) organises four days of industrial action for next month.

Today’s meeting was due to focus on the priorities for the force. Chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the gathering came after the committee heard from both the Garda Ombudsman and newly formed Policing Authority in recent weeks.

“It is an opportunity for the Commissioner to update the committee on her priorities for the force, in particular her modernisation and renewal programme… so that it can meet present and future policing and security challenges, while it is also an opportunity for committee members to raise any issues they may wish addressed in relation to policing in the State,” he said prior to the meeting.

In her opening address, O’Sullivan went through a number of operations that have been successful this year, including the offensive on rural burglaries and the policing of gangland crime.

Since March this year, cash, guns and ammunition have been seized, she said.

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’: What is happening with the gardaí now?

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