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More tensions at the PAC as Shane Ross accused of “insatiable thirst for publicity”

Two PAC members have formally requested that the PAC again consider the issue of releasing a transcript of garda whistleblower’s testimony. Ross was today accused of being more interested in “getting on the six o’clock news” than pursuing the truth.

Updated 4.55pm

THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS Committee has decided it won’t be giving a transcript of last week’s meeting on the penalty points issue to the garda whistleblower who gave testimony.

A consensus decision not to pursue further legal advice on the matter was reached only after Independent TD Shane Ross stressed several times that he dissented “absolutely” from his colleagues’ take on how to proceed.

This evening however, Ross and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald have formally written to the PAC clerk, seeking to have the matter back on the agenda for next week’s meeting. This is despite the majority of committee members being likely to take the same view as they did today if the matter is forced to an unprecedented vote.

Maurice McCabe — a serving garda sergeant — gave nearly three hours of evidence to the PAC last week, with members saying afterwards that he gave a comprehensive and credible account of his claims in relation to alleged malpractice in the penalty points system.

The panel of TDs has since sought legal advice on whether a copy of the transcript of his testimony can be released to McCabe, following a request from the garda’s solicitors.

‘Fundamental change’

But the PAC clerk, Ted McEnery, said today that on the advice he’d received, doing so could represent “a fundamental change” in procedure and that it might “have future implications not only for the PAC but [for other people] giving evidence to committees in private session”.

The clerk said that the matter would have to referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges should the TDs wish to accede to McCabe’s request.

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Kieran O’Donnell TD [Image: Oireachtas.ie]

The issue prompted a lengthly debate among PAC members, with the majority of the opinion that they should not pursue the matter further, in light of the advice to date.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell, who chaired today’s meeting, told the panel that they were not legally allowed to release a redacted transcript — although several members had made the point that if it was eventually released to the whistleblower, it would have to be redacted.

Ross, whose public comments have led to some tension in the PAC in recent weeks, maintained there was no reason not to provide the transcript, as they would not be releasing it to the public.

“We’re releasing it to him and simply to him to do what he likes with it.”

‘No control’

However, Fine Gael’s John Deasy said that on the basis of the advice they’d heard from the clerk, taking the matter further would be “a step too far” and warned that the committee was at risk of crossing over “into the political paranormal”.

“The reality is there wasn’t a great deal of substance that came from that meeting,” Deasy said.

“Mr McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, debunked a lot of what was in it [Garda McCabe's testimony] in terms of the number of penalty points written off,” he said.

“Whereas the theory from Sergeant McCabe was that tens of thousands were written off, I think the CAG definitively made the case that we’re really talking about hundreds.”

Gerald Nash of Labour warned that if were given to McCabe, the committee “will no longer have control” over the transcript. Others, including Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy, said it was clear the issue shouldn’t be taken any further.

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John Deasy & Simon Harris [Oireachtas.ie]

Ross continued to insist the PAC should refer the matter to the CPP for further advice, in the midst of a growing consensus from his colleagues.

The Dublin South TD’s stance led to a personal attack from Deasy, who observed that “there is a danger we are taking Deputy Ross too seriously”.

‘Insatiable thirst’

He accused Ross of being more interested in “getting on the 6 o’clock news” than he was in pursuing the truth.

“If there was anything Earth-shattering that came from that meeting, it would already have been reported,” Deasy said.

“This is not about the content of that meeting. It’s more about individuals, and their insatiable thirst for publicity”.

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Shane Ross TD [Oireachtas.ie]

Ross continued to insist that “the reason we held this in private was in case irresponsible allegations were made”.

“No such allegations were made. “

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Murphy insisted that that by not releasing the transcript the committee was, in fact, protecting Sergeant McCabe and said that “people who were at the meeting will know what I mean”.

O’Donnell asked several times if the members would agree as a body that the matter should not “at this time” be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Ross objected several times, arguing that it it should, before eventually accepting the consensus decision.

Letter

However this evening, the independent deputy and McDonald have formally written to McEnery this evening [read their letter here] to express their “deep dissatisfaction” with the PAC decision today.

They state that the committee’s decision “runs contrary to what was agreed and this development causes us deep disquiet”.

Ross and McDonald, who was not present at today’s meeting do to Sinn Féin party commitments, have asked that the matter be placed back on the PAC’s agenda for its regular Thursday morning meeting next week.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this evening, one committee member dismissed the letter.

They agreed that even if the matter was brought to a vote, Ross and McDonald would lose as the majority of PAC members believe the transcript should not be released to the whistleblower.

The PAC rarely votes on anything, normally reaching a consensus decision. The only previous vote in the lifetime of the current membership was when a ballot was held on electing Ross as chair.

- additional reporting Hugh O’Connell

First published 2.44pm

Read: PAC may hold rare vote as government TDs say penalty points inquiry should be stopped

Read: TD claims that evidence from garda whistleblower was ‘debunked’

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Daragh Brophy

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