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

Another controversy raises its head as embattled Commissioner looks on.

“SOMETHING IS ROTTEN in the state of Denmark.”

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What the hell is happening within An Garda Síochána?

Today, politicians have been lining up to call for the Commissioner’s job, to question if the force is (still) mired by dysfunctionality and to show serious concern about how gardaí are treated if they blow the whistle.

Since Fine Gael entered government in 2011, we’ve seen a Justice Minister and a Commissioner resign. We’ve had numerous reports into various practices within An Garda Síochána. There have been endless front pages about GSOC investigations. New legislation has been enacted to try to protect whistleblowers. And, finally, an independent Policing Authority was established – which, so far, has been none too impressed with what it has seen.

Yet, here we are again.

“Groundhog Day,” exclaimed Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” her opposition colleague Charlie McConalogue said from the Fianna Fáil benches.

“It is over two years,” an exasperated Mick Wallace added.

How in God’s name can the Minister say she is dealing with these matters?

Despite sending an email to all members over the summer about how to be a whistleblower, it seems management are still coming to terms with how to deal with that breed of garda.

The latest scandal

On Tuesday morning, the Irish Examiner’s Mick Clifford revealed that two senior gardaí had made protected disclosures of a very serious nature to the Justice Minister.

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

One of the gardaí who has made the disclosure has admitted to taking part in the campaign.

Was this not said before?

As Wallace mentioned during Leaders’ Questions today, we have been talking about the treatment of whistleblowers for years; namely John Wilson and Maurice McCabe, as well as the lesser-known Keith Harrison and Nick Keogh.

Clare Daly summed up how their lives have gone since blowing the whistle in the Dáil yesterday:

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.”

File Photo The gardai are once again in crisis and facing calls for major reform, due to the latest evidence from two senior garda whistleblowers that certain members of garda management engaged in attempts to discredit a previous whistleblower by feeding Former Commissioner Callinan with Noirin O'Sullivan in 2012 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

What are they actually blowing the whistle on?

Keogh was working as a drugs unit officer in Athlone when he came forward with information about garda involvement in the selling of heroin in the area. He also alleged there was coercion of non-criminal residents into buying drugs in an attempt to boost drugs-unit statistics.

Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported that Keogh’s claims have been substantiated in an internal garda inquiry.

According to journalist John Mooney, the probe found evidence of garda collusion in heroin dealing. It also confirmed that a senior garda took no meaningful action when told about alleged corruption back in 2009. Those involved now face disciplinary measures.

Harrison also worked in Athlone when he arrested a fellow officer for drink driving. After this incident, he says he was harassed and bullied by other members of the force.

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 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.

Didn’t we deal with Maurice McCabe already?

McCabe became a well-known figure in Ireland after airing concerns around procedures and practices in the Cavan/Monaghan garda division.

He worried about the treatment of victims, as well as the manner in which crimes were investigated in some instances. He has said that the way he was treated subsequently destroyed him, his career and his family.

PastedImage-38137 Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He was vindicated on the publication of the O’Higgins Report which found him to be a truthful and credible witness, if prone to exaggeration at times.

The judge described the sergeant as a dedicated and committed member of the force who showed courage and has performed a “genuine public service at considerable cost”.

O’Higgins also noted that McCabe took actions out of legitimate and genuine concerns. He also upheld some of his claims. That report concluded that victims of crime in Cavan were failed by gardaí because of deficiencies, resources and problems with management.

And is this latest story more or less significant?

It is more important for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the latest whistleblowers are senior gardaí. One of them has also admitted to being a party in a campaign against another member who had made a protected disclosure.

The Taoiseach has even admitted that the details in the reports from them could very well lead to “the appointment of a sitting judge to look at the documentation”.

More than likely, any investigation will fall outside GSOC’s remit. This might be a good thing as its new chairperson Mary Ellen Ring has already told Oireachtas members that her organisation lacks the “teeth” and resources to deal with issues arising from complaints from whistleblowers.

Secondly, the similarities of the known whistleblowers’ stories can not be easily ignored.

Sick leave, unpaid leave and dealing with media reports and local rumours have been part of the post-whistleblowing routine as mentioned by Daly yesterday.

One of the allegations made this week was that politicians and media were given briefings about those who made complaints.

Last May, Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness told the Dáil that he met with the former commissioner, Martin Callinan in a hotel car park two years ago to talk about McCabe.

At the time, O’Sullivan said she was ‘not aware’ of that meeting.

Wasn’t this all meant to be reformed already?

We have heard a lot about garda reform since O’Sullivan took over the reins from Martin Callinan.

GSOC has been given more powers – but not enough, as referenced above – and the Policing Authority has been established to provide oversight of the force.

But many within An Garda Síochána have pointed to a culture that has not changed. Some have said that O’Sullivan’s oft-repeated remark that dissent is not disloyalty is mere lipservice and not the reality on the ground.

Following the publication of the O’Higgins Report earlier this year, it emerged that at one stage there was an intention to argue to the inquiry that the sergeant made his concerns about work in the Cavan-Monaghan district because of a grudge he held against a senior officer.

There were many questions – which remain mostly unanswered – whether the Commissioner had planned to attack the ‘integrity, motivation and credibility’ of Sergeant McCabe as the probe began.

She has always denied this is the case, saying that whistleblowers – including McCabe – were friends of the gardaí.

What next?

Garda Reserve graduation Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fitzgerald wasn’t giving much away today, telling Mary Lou McDonald and Mick Wallace that due process would have to be followed.

She also said that there is no reason for her to not have full confidence in the Commissioner given that no findings of wrongdoing have been made against her.

Although she said she was “extremely concerned” about policing in Athlone, the Tánaiste noted that the protected disclosures were merely allegations and not findings of fact.

For her part, O’Sullivan has said that “she was not privy to nor approved of any action designed to target any garda employee who may have made a protected disclosure and would condemn any such action”.

However, the calls for her to resign are mounting. If these latest allegations stick and Daly is correct that there is a “huge gulf” between O’Sullivan’s public statements and what is actually happening under her watch, then she may need to be wary of any late-night knocks on her door. It could be a public servant waiting to do Enda Kenny’s bidding. Martin Callinan can tell her all about it.

Read: Garda Commissioner ‘did not know of, nor approve, any targeting of anyone making protected disclosures’

O’Higgins: How can you have good policing in a ‘deplorable’ garda station full of trainees?

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