#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 5°C Saturday 28 November 2020
Advertisement

Their stories aren't new, but you're about to hear a lot more about these OTHER garda whistleblowers

The stories of gardaí Nicky Keogh and Keith Harrison are starting to get a lot more attention.

pjimage Source: Rollingnews.ie

IF YOU THOUGHT last week was a bad one for Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan, it may have just been the tip of the iceberg.

There are at least two more garda whistleblowers out there in the ether at present, and while their stories aren’t new ones, they’re set to get a lot more attention in the coming days and weeks.

Gardaí Nicky Keogh and Keith Harrison were both based in Athlone, Co Westmeath, in 2009.

Both made complaints regarding certain events involving their own roles in the midlands town. Neither is working at present.

Both have seen their stories raised repeatedly in Dáil Éireann by the likes of Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, and (before he became an MEP) Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

And in the aftermath of the O’Higgins Commission report, and the endless brouhaha that has followed, both are set to get a lot more attention than they have done before now.

Missing file

More than three months after being requested to do so, it’s believed that the Garda Commissioner has yet to comply with an order from GSOC to supply a crucial investigation file with regard to a probe into the claims of Nicky Keogh.

Keogh, a drugs-unit officer in the Athlone unit, lodged his complaint to force-watchdog GSOC in October of last year.

That complaint concerns the alleged coercion of non-criminal Athlone residents into buying drugs in an attempt to boost drugs-unit statistics, among other things.

30/11/2015 Governments Response on Crime Issues Commissioner O'Sullivan with justice minister Frances Fitzgerald in November 2015 Source: Mark Stedman

At least one garda based in Athlone has been suspended during the course of GSOC’s investigation into the matter. Garda Keogh himself is currently on long-term sick leave due to alleged harassment from senior management within the force.

A key allegation made by Keogh is that an original case file concerning a case he was working on in 2009 was stolen from his desk and subsequently replaced with a new file.

That file was requested by GSOC to be handed over by the office of Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan in January of this year. Such an order generally carries a 30-day compliance period.

As of today’s date it’s understood that that file has yet to be delivered to GSOC by the office of the Commissioner.

“His allegations are serious, including a cover up of an original file which was stolen, with the original incident being removed from the PULSE system; the creation of new statements and appearance of new original information; non-compliance by the Garda with the court order for disclosure and at least one of the accused being threatened by a garda to plead guilty on the day of the court case,” Flanagan told the Dáil in May 2014 regarding Keogh.

He is a hero.

That was two years ago.

Drink-driving arrest

Then there is the story of Keith Harrison. Harrison was likewise stationed in Athlone in 2009 when he arrested a fellow officer, another member of the drugs unit there, for drink-driving.

A number of claims have been made about Harrison’s subsequent treatment by senior gardaí.

Those claims include: the suggestion that people Harrison had previously arrested had been asked whether or not they wished to make complaints about him, Garda surveillance being placed on him with minimal justification, and information regarding a Garda inquiry into him being deliberately leaked.

Harrison was eventually transferred to Buncrana in Co Donegal after being confined to desk work for two years.

Currently on unpaid sick leave, he claims that he suffered panic attacks during a five-year campaign of bullying perpetrated by his fellow officers.

TheJournal.ie contacted both GSOC and the gardaí with regard to the cases of Keogh and Harrison. The ombudsman’s response was a simple one: “GSOC cannot comment on any case involving the confidentiality of the protected disclosure process.”

A garda spokesperson likewise declined to comment. However, with regard to the situation of the missing file in Nicky Keogh’s case, they did say that “An Garda Síochána’s compliance rate in providing documentation for GSOC within 30 days is over 95%”.

In addition, we are strengthening our processes around protected disclosures which includes engaging externally to ensure the mechanisms we have in place are in accordance with best practice.

Dáil privilege

31/3/2016. Housing Forum Conferences Mick Wallace and Clare Daly arriving at a forum on housing and homelessness in March Source: Sasko Lazarov

Neither of these stories are new. But they’re starting to gain a lot more traction.

You can put that down to the torrid week just endured by the Garda Commissioner after allegations emerged that she had instructed her legal team for the O’Higgins Commission to challenge the integrity of Bailieboro whistleblower Maurice McCabe, in contradiction of her previous claim that she had never seen McCabe as ‘malicious’.

TD Mick Wallace, along with Clare Daly and Pearse Doherty (who first named Keith Harrison under Dáil privilege), has been bringing up the cases of Keogh and Harrison repeatedly in the Dáil for two years now.

“He’s been shouting from the rooftops for two years. It’s been very disappointing how they’ve dealt with him,” the Wexford deputy tells TheJournal.ie in reference to Keogh’s experience with his senior officers.

We’ve raised his issue 18 times in the Dáil in the past two years. It is a poor reflection on the media if he’s new now. They [senior management] are being nice to him now. He might have his complaints addressed in a more timely fashion.

Wallace and Daly have consistently called on the Commissioner to resign in recent times. He’s aware that the goalposts seem to have shifted to a great extent with the revelations last week on RTÉ’s Prime Time regarding O’Sullivan’s legal approach to Maurice McCabe.

According to Wallace, Keogh’s problems are not with rank-and-file gardaí (“they respect him”), but rather with senior management alone.

“He’s been pressured into disappearing and going away. He’s on sick leave, he’d rather be working, he’s on €290 per week,” he says.

They can’t just sweep it under the carpet.

Regarding both Keogh and Harrison, Wallace simply says:

“I would just say that it was unfortunate for both of them that the person they were making allegations against had much more powerful connections than they had within An Garda Síochána.”

The Garda Commissioner

Wallace believes that the lack of coverage of both Harrison and Keogh, despite their repeated name-checking in the Dáil, is attributable to ‘policing fatigue’.

“It is interesting that we would have raised Nick Keogh and Harrison, about how they were dealt with in the Dáil chamber. From January 2014 to Shatter’s (the former Minister for Justice) resignation there was huge media interest in the policing crisis but then it stopped there,” he says.

File photo Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has said it was perfectly right for garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe to raise issues of public concern. However, in an interview on RTE's Today with Sean O Rourke, Mr Shatter said: Bailieboro Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe Source: RollingNews.ie

 

The media was suffering from policing fatigue. They had no appetite for it any more. Now that the Commissioner has run into trouble, the media is back interested again.

He is steadfast in his belief that the Commissioner’s time is up.

“Nothing has changed in how whistleblowers are dealt with in An Garda Síochána. This doesn’t come as a surprise to us,” he says.

Myself and Clare Daly did warn that unless they selected a new Commissioner from outside the hierarchy, we weren’t going to get anything different.
Harrison’s case was with GSOC for two years and there has been no progress. GSOC does not have the ability to hold gardaí to account. It is not in a position to replace the confidential recipient and the sooner that is admitted by the government the better.

Regarding O’Sullivan herself, the Wexford TD simply says: “She is not the right person for the job. She never was.”

What happens now?

Elsewhere, Noirín O’Sullivan is coming under increasing pressure to clarify what instructions she gave to her legal team before the O’Higgins Commission. Over the weekend justice minister Frances Fitzgerald said that she was ‘sure’ O’Sullivan will clarify matters in due course.

The results of a new Claire Byrne Live / Amárach Research poll conducted for TheJournal.ie meanwhile say that just 18% of those polled believe the Garda Commissioner has adequately clarified her position with regard to both Maurice McCabe and the O’Higgins Report (48% say she hasn’t done so, 34% were ‘don’t knows’).

The Commissioner is due to speak before the newly set-up Policing Authority on Thursday, while the O’Higgins Report will be discussed by the Dáil on Wednesday and Thursday. Expect fireworks. This story doesn’t look like it’s going to go away.

“We need someone completely new,” says Wallace regarding O’Sullivan. “We need to get rid of the bulk of the present hierarchy if we are serious about a better way of policing.”

With reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll

Read: Days after his appointment, this junior minister might vote against the government

Read: ‘Brash, opinionated’ Kelly says he must be the country’s most psychoanalysed politician

Read next:

COMMENTS (73)