I invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who is having an exceedingly busy day, to make his opening statement under Standing Order 45, and he has 15 minutes.
Third Interim Report of the Disclosures Tribunal: Statements
I thank the Ceann Comhairle.
I am very pleased the House has decided to set aside time to debate the third interim report of the disclosures tribunal. I must add, however, that it seems to be a very quiet House compared with the frenzied atmosphere there was around the setting up of the tribunal and associated events last year. Having read the report in some detail, there is no doubt it is comprehensive and merits careful and close reading.
It is very clear what the report's main findings are and what Mr. Justice Charleton considers should be foremost in our minds in formulating a response to it. The principal finding relates to the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The tribunal has set out in a clear and stark way the ordeal which was endured by Sergeant McCabe and his family. Many aspects of the report make for very disturbing reading. What shines through at all times in this report is the courage and incredible resilience of Maurice McCabe and his family.
As I told the House this morning, since the report was published I have spoken with Sergeant McCabe on the telephone and, on behalf of the State, I apologised to him and his family for the manner in which he was treated over a prolonged period of time. He was extremely gracious and accepted that apology in the spirit in which it was offered. I intend to meet Sergeant McCabe in person in the corning weeks and I look forward to those discussions. I know the entire House joins with me in wishing him and his family well. My sincere hope is that he, his wife, Lorraine, and their family can now put this horrendous and prolonged ordeal behind them and get on with their lives.
There is no doubt in my mind that Maurice McCabe has done the State some considerable service. While this module of the tribunal addressed Sergeant McCabe's situation, the report shines a light on many issues and events, and contains many important lessons for all of us.
I propose to look at the report's main findings and then outline the way forward as I see it. First, I should once again express my thanks and appreciation to Mr. Justice Charleton for the efficient and effective manner in which he conducted the business of the tribunal and the clarity of his report and the conclusions thereto.
I also offer my thanks to Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, the former President of the Court of Appeal, who will take over the work of the tribunal in relation to the matters covered by the remaining paragraph [p] of its terms of reference. That paragraph covers any garda who made protected disclosures and who alleged that he or she was subsequently targeted or discredited as a result.
I will briefly refer to the background to the matters before the tribunal. The tribunal arose essentially out of two protected disclosures made by Superintendent David Taylor and Sergeant Maurice McCabe to my predecessor as Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in the autumn of 2016. Those protected disclosures alleged that a campaign was being run by senior gardaí to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Members of the House are sufficiently aware of the details, so let me just say in general terms what these were. The primary allegations which gave rise to the tribunal related to the alleged use of an entirely false allegation of serious criminal misconduct by Sergeant McCabe and the involvement of Tusla in this regard; allegations that the then Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, sought to use these allegations to discredit Sergeant McCabe at the O'Higgins commission of investigation; and allegations that senior members of the service acted in a manner intended to discredit or traduce Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
I have already said that the report and its findings need to be read carefully but its primary conclusions are very clear. The report is emphatic in its vindication of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. It states that he is a genuine person who was concerned to maintain standards and that he has done the State considerable service by bringing failures within An Garda Síochána to the attention of the wider public. Sergeant Maurice McCabe deserves the gratitude of all of us for bringing serious shortcomings to public attention. As I said, I have spoken with Sergeant McCabe and I will meet him shortly.
The report finds that an error made in preparing a report on allegations against Sergeant McCabe was allowed to remain uncorrected. This was a Tusla issue and will be addressed later in the debate by my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. No one before the O'Higgins commission of investigation ever accused Sergeant McCabe of any crime, hinted at it or engaged in any innuendo about it. The tribunal found that both former Commissioner Martin Callinan and Superintendent David Taylor had not been truthful in the matter of their evidence. The tribunal accepts the evidence of my predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that she decided not to interfere following the email of 15 May 2015 informing her that an issue had arisen at the commission of investigation. The report emphasises that her response was a considered one.
On a personal basis, I would like to say that Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is a loss to the Cabinet and I do not believe her resignation served any public interest, though it may have served the political interests of some people and parties in this House. I hope to see the Deputy returned to high office in the near future.
Returning to the tribunal’s central findings, it accepted that the former Minister did not speak with the former Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan. It finds that in fact no situation requiring intervention by then Minister occurred before the O'Higgins commission. A particular allegation was made about my Department's involvement with those transcripts but the report states clearly that the transcripts provided to the tribunal from the O'Higgins commission of investigation are and always were complete despite unfounded media speculation to the contrary.
I would like to mention former Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. The former Commissioner was the subject of a concerted campaign to undermine her position over a period of time, from the leaking of partial and misleading transcripts from the O'Higgins commission right up to the making of the two protected disclosures and even following the setting up of the tribunal.
While I accept that the Oireachtas has a vital role to play in ensuring accountability, it is incumbent on all of us, as elected representatives, not to abuse the responsible positions we hold. What we expect of others, we should also expect of ourselves. During her tenure as Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan was frequently before Oireachtas committees. She was frequently subjected to questions that sometimes crossed the line that divides robust inquiry from personalised attack. I ask Members who were party to that process to reflect carefully on their behaviour at that time.
In the end, it is clear these allegations, which have been found by the tribunal to be unsupported by evidence, became more than anyone could reasonably bear, particularly in an extremely pressurised, responsible and visible job, which is that of the Garda Commissioner. The tribunal did not find any evidence that the former Commissioner was party to the calumny visited upon Sergeant McCabe or any wrongdoing on her part in relation to Superintendent Taylor. It is important, in all the circumstances, that these findings are recorded in the House. As I did on the occasion of her retirement, I thank former Commissioner O'Sullivan for her service and wish her well in her future endeavours.
Moreover, while some members of An Garda Síochána are revealed by the tribunal to have behaved reprehensively, Mr. Justice Charleton also highlights the diligent arid professional approach taken by many members of the organisation. As Minister for Justice and Equality, this gives me grounds for optimism for the future.
Mr. Justice Charleton raises the fact that this House did not debate his second report dealing with terms of reference (n) and (o) regarding complaints made by Garda Keith Harrison. Deputies will acknowledge that there can be a level of furore in this House in relation to a matter giving rise to a tribunal that is seldom matched by in-depth analysis on publication of the report, particularly if it makes for uncomfortable reading for Members of the House. Hence, the fact that there is a mere handful of Deputies here for the start of this debate. We should not shy away from self-reflection as a Parliament if we are to maintain a healthy democracy.
Garda Harrison and his partner, Marisa Simms, alleged that the Garda Síochána at the highest level had prevailed on the HSE to intervene in their family affairs as a consequence of the making of protected disclosures by Garda Harrison. Members will recall the media coverage of these allegations which, put together with Sergeant McCabe's experiences with Tusla, opened the appalling vista of the Garda Síochána colluding with the social services to target members who raised certain issues.
Mr Justice Charleton fully investigated Garda Harrison's allegations. He finds: "All of the allegations of Garda Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms examined by the tribunal are entirely without any validity." Mr. Justice Charteton goes on to say: "It is appropriate here to exonerate everyone in social services and in policing accused by them of discreditable conduct." His words require no further elucidation on my part. Again, I invite Members of the House who engaged in questioning on this issue to reflect on their statements and allegations.
Let me turn to the future. I very much welcome the Garda Commissioner's initial response to the report last week. I will discuss matters raised in detail with Commissioner Harris, assuring him of my support as he addresses the findings in the report. It is clear there are consequences to be dealt with for individuals and much of that will fall to the Garda Commissioner. It would not be helpful for me to comment directly on these matters in the course of this debate. This House must leave any due process that arises to take its course in respect of serving employees. I assure Deputies that any action required by me or my Department will be followed up speedily and thoroughly. I will engage directly with the Commissioner in the coming days.
Mr. Justice Charleton also refers to protected disclosures and how they were used in the lead-up to the establishment of the tribunal. I note that he questions, in particular, if there is a lacuna in the system whereby protected disclosures, which were properly made in accordance with the 2014 Act, are then made available to Members of the Oireachtas and the media where the subjects of the allegations have little or no opportunity to respond.
This has created a situation where those accused are practically considered guilty until proven innocent. It is an abuse of an Act introduced to protect genuine whistleblowers reporting what they reasonably believed to be genuine wrongs. This merits consideration and I will raise this with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, whose Department has carriage of this legislation.
Mr. Justice Charleton is right when he says that new structures will not of themselves create the culture that would avoid the repetition of bad practice that has been highlighted now in a number of reports on the Garda Síochána. This requires significant cultural change, embedding consistent good practices and conscientious supervision by those in management ranks. An Garda Síochána commissioned an independent organisation culture audit earlier this year for which the auditors spoke to many rank and file gardaí. The report also highlights many of the issues addressed by the tribunal’s report.
I strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in policing reads the Independent Policing Commission's report from cover to cover. I am engaged in a consultation process with the Departments and agencies on which the report has had an impact, and I will be returning to Government with a high-level implementation plan in December of this year. The report specifically recommends new oversight architecture for policing that defines and separates responsibility for governance, oversight and accountability. It also addresses the critical issue of discipline in An Garda Síochána and, similar to Mr Justice Charleton, recommends a new disciplinary regime. GSOC would be replaced by a new complaints body that would handle all complaints against An Garda Síochána that raise serious issues about standards of policing or police integrity itself, such as potential breaches of the law, violation of human rights or corruption, or issues that might indicate a widespread or systemic problem within the police. The implementation plan for the commission's report will take full account of the issues
I will now return to where I began. Sergeant Maurice McCabe has done the State a huge service and Mr. Justice Charleton has done likewise, but their service will be for nothing if we do not respond appropriately. I was greatly taken by the set of obligations on gardaí set out towards the end of the tribunal report. Gardaí are urged to take pride in their work and their uniform, always be honest, visible and polite, to serve the people, to treat their obligation to the public as superior to any false sense that gardaí should stick up for each other and, finally, to engage in self-analysis. These are simple values based on doing the right thing, but they are fundamental. These are the standards that we should all observe, as public servants, as members of this House and as human beings. They are certainly what the public has a right to expect of An Garda Síochána.
Clearly, there are lessons here for An Garda Síochána, my Department, all public bodies, the Government, the Oireachtas and, not least, the media. A central tenet for all of us is that we must learn how effectively to face up to and determine the truth of allegations while not making the mistake of treating these as facts in all circumstances. Unfortunately, that was done on more than one occasion in this House over the past 12 months. Above all, we as a society must respond appropriately to those who speak up to highlight a wrong. For my part, I am determined that these lessons will be learned and applied.
I will start by thanking Mr. Justice Charleton and the tribunal team for conducting such an efficient and thorough investigation, as requested by the Houses of the Oireachtas in February 2017. Mr. Justice Charleton has produced two substantive reports within a period of 20 months, and those reports have categorically answered the questions and issues of urgent public importance that this House asked him to determine. He has produced reports which are well written, clear, decisive and erudite. He has done exactly what we asked him to do. That said, it is important to note the limitations of tribunals of inquiry. As I said when we were debating the terms of reference back in February 2017, a tribunal of inquiry is just a fact-finding body. It is not there to determine penalties or to impose sanctions on individuals. It is simply a fact-finding body to determine what happened.
The Houses of the Oireachtas establishes tribunals of inquiry when there are matters of urgent public importance that the Dáil and Seanad believe merit investigation and report. When one looks at the tribunals of inquiry that we have had in this country over the past 20 or 30 years, one will note that all of them derived from political controversies. Many of the political controversies that give rise to tribunals of inquiry originate in this House. This is true of the beef tribunal, the Flood tribunal, the Moriarty tribunal, the Smithwick tribunal or indeed the disclosures tribunal. All of the aforementioned emanated from issues of political controversy.
It is worth going back and recalling the political issues that led this House to determine that we needed a public inquiry. The first was that in September 2016, a superintendent at the Garda press office made a protected disclosure in which he made very serious allegations against the then Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan. There was also a protected disclosure made by Sergeant McCabe at that time. The Government agreed at the time that there needed to be an investigation of those allegations. At that stage, it was not thought that a tribunal of inquiry was appropriate but that there should be a commission of investigation.
When the terms of the commission of investigation were being drawn up, a second issue arose in February 2017, namely, the broadcasting by RTE of a report on its "Prime Time" programme to the effect that Tusla, the child and family agency, had produced a report which contained an allegation against Sergeant McCabe that was 100% false. It suggested that Sergeant McCabe had been involved in criminal activity for which no allegation had ever been made against him. Mr. Justice Charleton, on page 33 of his report, says that it "was justifiable for the people of Ireland to suspect at the time of the setting up of this tribunal in early 2017 that the ostensible capacity to destroy members of An Garda Síochána exercised by Garda Headquarters extended even to using national social services for that end." I recall that in February 2017 there was legitimate concern, not just on the Opposition benches but within Government, that there had been a campaign against Sergeant McCabe that resulted in the social services being used to defame him. That was the second reason for members of this House deeming it appropriate to establish a tribunal of inquiry.
The third issue giving rise to the setting up of a public inquiry was that at the same time, there had been selective publication of one or two pages of the report of the commission of investigation conducted by Mr. Justice O'Higgins which suggested that Sergeant McCabe had been aggressively cross-examined and that the Garda Commissioner had sought to undermine him at that commission. These were the reasons behind the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. These were urgent matters of public importance and it is to the benefit of this country and these Houses that we had an inquiry and a report has been produced.
It is important to note, however, that the allegations made by Superintendent Taylor against the former Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, were false. They were untrue allegations but at the time there was a lot of pressure on people to say that Nóirín O'Sullivan should resign because of them. Fianna Fáil did not say that she had to resign. We said that she was entitled to defend herself against those allegations. The lesson this House should learn from this is that if serious allegations are made against individuals and if those individuals deny them, they are entitled to defend themselves. If the allegations are sufficiently serious, then we set up a public or private inquiry to determine where the truth lies.
On the issues involving Tusla, Mr. Justice Charleton is very clear. He says that the copy and paste mistake, whereby part of a report about a different individual was inserted into Sergeant McCabe's report, was "an unbelievable coincidence" but despite its bizarre nature, it was a "genuine mistake". My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, will speak in due course about Tusla, but we should reflect on the fact that Mr. Justice Charleton referred to what went on in that organisation as constituting "shocking administrative incompetence". That is a fairly damning condemnation of a State agency and, as policymakers, we need to determine what must be done in respect of it.
The second part of the allegations made by Superintendent Taylor was that there was a campaign against Sergeant McCabe, who also made this complaint. There was a campaign against Sergeant McCabe. It did not involve Nóirín O'Sullivan, but it did involve the former Commissioner, Mr. Callinan. The most deeply disturbing aspect of the report is that it reaches a finding that a Commissioner of An Garda Síochána used his office and power to repulsively denigrate Sergeant McCabe. It is wholly inappropriate for a Garda Commissioner to launch an attack on a member of the Garda force in that way.
When people heard that Sergeant McCabe had been accused of child abuse, the most serious allegation that could be made against an individual, they were legitimately and genuinely outraged by it. Some thought that it would constitute criminal behaviour. It does not. The only remedy Sergeant McCabe has is his constitutional right to his good name. The only remedy he can have to rectify the damage is through a defamation action. I appreciate and acknowledge that the Minister for Justice and Equality today apologised to Sergeant McCabe on behalf of the State. It was the right thing to do and I commend the Minister for doing so. Apologies in defamation actions, however, are just words. Sergeant McCabe is entitled to another remedy, which may be a matter for another day. The State needs to recognise that its most senior police officer engaged in a campaign of calumny against him, as described by Mr. Justice Charleton, and that campaign of calumny has to be rectified by the State.
The other part of the report deals with what happened at the commission of investigation before Mr. Justice O'Higgins. The terms of reference included wanting to know whether the allegation of sexual abuse had been used against Sergeant McCabe at the commission of investigation. We had very little to go on, one page, but there were suggestions from other quarters that, in fact, Sergeant McCabe had been aggressively questioned and this allegation had been used against him at the O'Higgins commission of investigation. We now know from the report of Mr. Justice Charleton that there was no reference to any allegation of sexual abuse at the O'Higgins commission of inquiry and that although the transcript did indicate at the outset that there were instructions on the part of the former Garda Commissioner's senior counsel to challenge the integrity and motivation of Sergeant McCabe, in fact, was a mistake made by counsel representing the former Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan. Mistakes happen, which I fully accept, but it was a serious matter which merited investigation.
I am conscious that the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, got caught up in the issues associated with Sergeant McCabe after we had established the terms of reference for the tribunal of inquiry in February 2017. In November 2017 information came out which suggested that, in fact, the then Minister and the Department of Justice and Equality had been aware of the Garda strategy being used by the Garda Commissioner in the O'Higgins commission of investigation. I bear no ill will towards Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I share the Minister's views of her in that I believe she is a very fine politician, but I cannot be insincere and go back and try to recreate what happened in November 2017. On that occasion, inaccurate incorrect information was given to the Dáil. There was a requirement for political accountability and, unfortunately for Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, she got caught up in it. There was nothing personal in it on my part or that of my party, but the difference between the former Minister and the former Commissioner, Ms O'Sullivan, on whom some called to give up her job, is that the former Minister was accountable to this House. Politicians in Dáil Éireann are only accountable to it for utterances in this House; no tribunal of inquiry is entitled to regulate what they state in this House and it was our responsibility.
I will now give my colleague, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, some time. This is an excellent report. The seven obligations Mr. Justice Charleton has imposed on members of An Garda Síochána should be set out. People at home watching this debate who have not read the report should read it. There is some great language in it. I particularly like the story about the penitent who went to confession, but that is a matter for another day.
Mr. Justice Peter Charleton summarises:
...a rape allegation was conjured out of nowhere [...] When the mistake was discovered nearly a year later in 2014 when Maurice McCabe was even better known, the person who made it did all she could to rectify it. It was given continued life, notwithstanding her efforts, because of startling inefficiency [and indolence] within social services. In consequence, serious upset was caused to Maurice McCabe and his wife and family because the rape allegation took on a life of its own and resulted in a letter from TUSLA being delivered to his household accusing him of a rape offence that no one had ever laid against him.
What is profoundly worrying is that Tusla failed on two occasions - in 2006, when it failed to carry out a credibility assessment and interview Sergeant McCabe, and 2013, when Ms D attended Health Service Executive counselling, during which she reported the alleged incident to the counsellor. The counsellor typed a report on the incident into another report that she had used to detail an incident which had been reported to her by another client. The result was a jumbled written report that included details and names from Ms D's and Ms Y's allegations. To an attentive reader, it should have been obvious that there were considerable discrepancies in the document, that it seemed to involve two clients. This became known as the "cut and paste error" which resulted in a rape allegation being made against Sergeant McCabe.
During the course of the tribunal efforts were made to understand the system used by the HSE and later Tusla to handle child protection cases. Essentially, the system was based on "measuring the pressure", whereby high priority and urgent cases were handled immediately. An example was a child being kept in a cage at home. For all other cases - medium or low priority cases - files were transferred to a filing cabinet in the Cavan premises. When a social worker had free time, he or she went and plucked out a file. According to some social workers, there was system in place to do this chronologically or according to seriousness. According to others, it was totally random. The tribunal is satisfied that there was no system in place. Aside from the ramifications for the Sergeant McCabe case, this amounts to shocking incompetence on the part of Tusla. In the absence of a proper system to handle child protection cases, files can be left for indefinite periods of time and low priority cases can be handled ahead of medium priority cases. All of this can result in additional harm being perpetrated against children, in so far as it can result in Tusla failing to act on live cases in a timely fashion.
Are the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Taoiseach happy or comfortable with Ireland's child protection services? The tribunal of inquiry is a fact-finding body and it is not for it to oversee any reform or changes on foot of its findings. Implementation of changes on foot of the conclusions made in the report is a matter for the Government and we hope steps will be taken without delay to implement reform. Does the House agree that it is time we had a branch and root review of Tusla? It is not all a question of a shortage of social workers or management. It is a matter of checks and balances, responsibility and accountability and protecting vulnerable children. It is also a question of protecting claimants. It is obvious in reading the report that the system in Tusla is broken and in need of review.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe is now a household name in Irish society. He is the person most central to the tribunal and its findings. I am sure, however, that he wishes that was not the case, that none of this had transpired. Unfortunately, the actions of his superiors meant that he was drawn into one of the largest controversies involving An Garda Síochána in its history. He is a man who took on the culture of impunity and the powers that propped it up and won.
We cannot overstate the impact the Sergeant Maurice McCabe has had on policing in this State, on highlighting the importance of whistleblowers calling out wrongdoing, and the legacy his stand will leave, hopefully leading to a more transparent and accountable police service in the years to come. He is to be commended on his bravery in the face of the stiffest of adversity, having met with significant and at times what must have looked like insurmountable obstacles that many would have fallen before. The obstacles that Sergeant McCabe faced were walls of power and those who were most powerful being a law unto themselves, in a way with scarcely any precedent, and which in hindsight screamed of malice.
Sergeant McCabe has been entirely vindicated by the findings of this tribunal. It stated "Maurice McCabe has done the State considerable service by bringing these matters to the attention of the wider public and he has done so not out of a desire to inflate his public profile, but out of a legitimate drive to ensure that the national police force serves the people through hard work and diligence." It further found, quite remarkably, that he was "repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer" and subject to a campaign of calumny. These are very strong findings which highlight the seriousness of what was at foot and the implications and impact it had for Sergeant McCabe and his family.
It was truly extraordinary that the most senior garda in the State would denigrate in such a horrid and malevolent way a man whose only crime was to highlight wrongdoing in that organisation. If the conclusions that Mr. Justice Charleton has arrived at were stated at the time, in 2012, it is likely that they would have been dismissed as a phantom and practically impossible. Unfortunately, it has proven to be a reality.
I thank Mr. Justice Charleton for his sterling work on this tribunal and wish the best of luck to Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, who will handle the final module, on term of reference (p). My party and I accept the findings and the recommendations contained in this report. I think we can all agree that when the allegations made by Sergeant McCabe came into the public domain in 2012, we were shocked but perhaps not so surprised. A few months later, he lifted the lid on the penalty points controversy. This became the catalyst for the real challenge that faced Sergeant McCabe.
Unfortunately, and disgracefully, the response by the institution of An Garda Síochána was not to reflect upon these failings, see how they might be resolved, and how to support Sergeant McCabe, but to round on him and treat him as a nuisance to be ignored, marginalised and perhaps even vilified. Such feelings of disdain manifested themselves and were made overtly public by the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, when he went before the Committee of Public Accounts and proceeded to tell it that only two officers out of a force of 13,000 were making allegations of wrongdoing, and that on a personal level he found that to be quite disgusting. The then Assistant Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan stated subsequently that this wording was unfortunate as if to imply it was a mere slip when it is clear now that it was anything but. This specific and select choice of words spoke to a wider culture of how whistleblowers were perceived within the force at the time, and the greater perception that their loyalty to the force had been breached, rather than commending their loyalty to the public which is their first and foremost duty.
While that is a mere six years ago, or less than that, so much has developed and emerged since then that it seems like a different era. So many controversies have unfortunately enveloped An Garda Síochána, that it seems hard now to imagine a Commissioner attempting to pass it off as a triviality and fringe issue. That came from a man who we now know was central to the concerted attempt to do down Sergeant McCabe. I also commend Garda John Wilson who stood by Sergeant McCabe's claims and publicly supported him when the easier thing to do would have been to disappear into the background of the story.
Jumping forward to May 2016, days after the O'Higgins report was published, further leaks revealed that Commissioner O'Sullivan's legal team had a strategy of attacking Sergeant McCabe's motivation and integrity during the inquiry. Mr. Justice Charleton found last week that this strategy was legally proper, which is his remit. Former Commissioner O'Sullivan and Deputy Frances Fitzgerald are entitled to point to that. I remain unconvinced whether it was wise or whether it was consistent with the approach adopted by the former Commissioner of being supportive, legally and otherwise, of whistleblowers. It remains my view that such a strategy should ideally not have been embarked upon, particularly when based, as it transpired, on a mistranscription or a miscommunication of the letter of 18 May regarding complaints made to Superintendent Clancy. It is unfortunate that urgent requests to engage with counsel following the row with the commission, given the context outlined above, were not followed. Mr. Justice Charleton came to that conclusion himself in page 153 of the report where he stated:
The balance of the evidence is to the effect that Commissioner O’Sullivan was urgently requested to engage with counsel over the weekend following the row but that for whatever unexplained reason, she was not prepared to do so. The tribunal cannot accept her evidence in that regard.
In June 2016, Tusla wrote to Sergeant McCabe, confirming that no allegation of digital penetration had been made against him. Sergeant McCabe requested of Tusla that all copies of records made on him and his family be released to him. In 2006, a complaint was made against Sergeant McCabe of sexual impropriety with a colleague's daughter, known as Ms D, about eight years earlier. The Director of Public Prosecutions ordered no prosecution and social services directed no further action. The report states: "That should have been the end of any allegation that Maurice McCabe had ever sexually assaulted a child." Mr. Justice Charleton found:
The false report had an afterlife within TUSLA. This was not due to any action by gardaí, but was because of the astounding inefficiency of that organisation.
He found that if Tusla had owned up to accusing Sergeant McCabe mistakenly of rape, there would likely have been no need for the disclosures tribunal. It was within a week of these allegations coming into the public domain that the tribunal was established.
There are major questions for Tusla, which no longer has the excuse of being a new organisation. It has been on the ground for a number of years. It was dealing with historical issues. Social services have long been a problem in this State but, unfortunately, Tusla still seems to lurch from crisis to crisis. Some of these issues are resource related but it is clear that resources are not an explanation for all these problems. We need to look seriously at social services and to develop a strategy for their improvement, for investment, and for retention of social workers. Unfortunately, at the minute, it is only paid attention as crises arise. The most recent significant one related to Geoffrey Shannon's report into section 12 cases.
Mr. Justice Charleton ruled there was no conspiracy behind the mix-up, stating, "This must be one of the most unlikely coincidences ever to be accepted by any judicial tribunal. Yet, coincidence it was." He accepted evidence by HSE staff member, Laura Brophy, about how she made the mistake and called it an horrendous coincidence. Mr. Justice Charleton said Tusla was slow to respond to the public request for co-operation with the disclosures tribunal, which is a worrying finding, and I hope it will be questioned further by the Minster, Deputy Zappone, and the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.
I can only imagine the hurt caused to Garda McCabe by such a catastrophic series of errors, with allegations of the most serious and disgusting of crimes dogging him and his family for many years to come. For former Garda Commissioner Callinan apparently to take advantage of that atmosphere to discredit Maurice McCabe is the lowest of the low and, to use the phrase, disgusting. This was the most senior garda in the State, trying to make out that a prominent whistleblower was guilty of such crimes, dragging his name through the mud. Any such individual has no place in any workplace, never mind at the top of one of the most powerful organisations in the State, and the damage which he has done to An Garda Síochána will take many years to repair.
Superintendent Taylor is also damaged by this report. His allegations could be explained as some internalised guilt or such. It is difficult to rationalise but it is clear that it was a back covering exercise rather than being motivated by transparency and justice. I noted this morning that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, offered what I believe was a sincere apology to Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and that he will meet him in the near future to reiterate his apologies on behalf of the State. I welcome that.
I note that there has been much commentary in recent days on the events that took place here last November.
It is important that, while we have entrusted Mr. Justice Charleton to make an adjudication on the facts and on legal elements of the various related controversies, it is not for him to adjudicate on the political handling of events and the political response to them. The criticism made against the Government, and against Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, were not legal, but political criticisms. It was well documented at the time as to the reason Deputy Fitzgerald lost the confidence of the Dáil, and why motions of confidence were tabled. To quote Michael Clifford in yesterday's Irish Examiner:
She had to resign because she misrepresented the extent of her knowledge about what went on in 2015, she was slow in answering legitimate questions, her briefing to the Taoiseach saw him mislead the Dáil, and her Department failed to discover important documents to the disclosures tribunal.
The performance of the Government at the time was less than what we would expect and for the sake of clarity it is worth reflecting on some of those points. On 9 November 2017, following a number of parliamentary questions from Deputy Kelly, the Department located the email sent on 15 May 2015, which had not been discovered despite two thorough searches for all information pertaining to McCabe having been done for the scoping exercise by Mr. Justice O'Neill and the disclosures tribunal. On 14 November 2017 the Taoiseach told the Dáil the Tánaiste had no prior knowledge of the legal strategy of the Garda Commissioner's legal team. On 16 November 2017, the Tánaiste was informed of said email, one which she has maintained she had forgotten, and she did not inform the Taoiseach despite him having provided false information to the Dáil two days previously. On 20 November 2017, the media broke the story that the said email had been found. The Taoiseach got first sight of that at 11 p.m. and it was claimed that Deputy Fitzgerald informed the Taoiseach earlier in the afternoon of that day. On 21 November 2017 the Taoiseach faced Leaders' Questions and corrected the record, informing the Dáil that the Tánaiste had been informed of the email a year before the public, so she had prior knowledge. She had said she was aware of the row at the tribunal but said she did not have prior knowledge. On 22 November 2017 it emerged that the Tánaiste was aware of the strategy three days before Sergeant McCabe was questioned, and she failed to act in any way. That was borne out by an email.
It is a matter of public record that the Taoiseach corrected the Dáil on numerous occasions on the days leading up the eventual resignation of Deputy Fitzgerald. It was on the back of that mess that Deputy McDonald said there was now a question about the "judgment and credibility of the Tánaiste and the Government". Deputy Fitzgerald is entitled to point to the fact that she acted truthfully and honestly at the tribunal. I bear her no ill will. I believe she is a decent woman and achieved something in the Department of Justice and Equality, for example, the Domestic Violence Bill, which she initiated and which was subsequently carried through by the current Minister. However, there is no question in my mind that the affair was mishandled. The Dáil was given the wrong story too many times, and the political decision was taken to put forward a motion of no confidence. As has been stated, it is the domain of this House to consider matters of political judgment. There was not confidence in the Minister and how this affair was handled by the Government, and the process was merely a formality.
I commend Mr. Justice Charleton on his report. A considerable amount of information was collated and assessed in what was, relative to the scope of the material and evidence, quite a short period of time. The obligations outlined for the Garda are well worth reading for any member of the public. It is an evocation of what we want to see in An Garda Síochána, and what we hope for. In some ways the report could be considered a companion piece to the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland given the vision outlined for An Garda Síochána.
I again congratulate Sergeant McCabe for putting his head above the parapet and, despite many attempts to discredit him, doing so with his head held high, knowing that he was fighting to do what was right and just. On behalf of Sinn Féin I wish to state that we consider his actions heroic. We hope he has changed for the better the future direction of policing in this country. We wish him, his wife Lorraine and his family good luck going forward, and hope they get a well-deserved rest after many arduous years of struggle and that there is finally vindication.
Mr. Justice Charleton described sitting through the hearings in Dublin Castle as a dispiriting exercise. For those of us who have done so, reading his report is equally dispiriting. As Mr. Justice Charleton wrote, "Every judge is conscious that the task of judging others is a human function. As such, it is fallible." The judge will therefore understand that I do not share his every opinion as expressed in this report, particularly on matters of political accountability. However, I do believe that it is an impressive exercise in arriving at the truth on factual issues and in securing answers that were previously hidden from us.
I want to concentrate on three aspects that most immediately concern us as public representatives. I start with the controversy surrounding Deputy Fitzgerald, even though it is far from being the most important aspect of this affair, but we need to get it out of the way. As has been pointed out by others this week, here and in the media, her Government colleagues have attempted to use the report in order to exonerate Deputy Fitzgerald of a charge of which she was not accused. As a Government member and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald's primary responsibility was to account fully and accurately to this House for the performance of her functions. The reason she resigned was not because of anything that happened in 2015. I want to be fair to Deputy Fitzgerald because we all hold her in high regard on a personal basis. The reason she resigned was because of what happened in 2017. Deputy Fitzgerald resigned last November because the Dáil was misled about her knowledge of issues at the O'Higgins commission that took place in May 2015. I repeat that this is an issue of political, rather than legal, accountability, best assessed by the Members of this House.
What is now clear about the issue at the O'Higgins hearings in May 2015 is that the Chief State Solicitor's team considered it to be "political dynamite" and Commissioner O'Sullivan considered that she was in an "almost impossible dilemma". The Department and then the Minister were notified about what was going on. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, acknowledged that she must have read the email sent to her about it. She decided not to intervene, and Mr. Justice Charleton believes this was correct. We have no quarrel with that, although, carefully, the judge did not say that a Minister could never intervene in such circumstances. He expressly left it open that a Minister would be fully justified in intervening if in fact false allegations of sexual abuse had been deployed before Mr. Justice O'Higgins, in order to unfairly traduce Maurice McCabe. In any event, in November 2017 my colleague, Deputy Kelly, submitted parliamentary questions about what was known about all of this in the Department of Justice and Equality. The answers he received were vague and unhelpful, but he persisted. He might, truthfully, have been told in reply that the Minister was aware of the issue but had decided on legal and official advice not to interfere. Instead, officialdom behaved as if it had something to hide, and as we subsequently found out it did. The Taoiseach was briefed by his Minister and told the Dáil that the Minister, "found out about it [the legal strategy] after the fact, but around the time it was in the public domain when everybody else knew about it as well". That simply was not true and the subsequent trawl of emails in the Department showed it was not true. Then, to top it all, we discovered that the emails had not been sent to the tribunal, ten months after it had been appointed. The Minister resigned the following day. The Dáil had been misled about the nature and extent of her knowledge of a matter of live public controversy. In the atmosphere of last November, there was no alternative to the step she took.
That is the understatement of the century.
The then Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was in charge of the "dysfunctional" Department of Justice and Equality, as the Taoiseach called it. The Charleton tribunal had asked everyone to provide full documentation to it, but subsequently the Department had to provide multiple boxes of newly discovered information. Nothing in the report published this week points to a vindication in relation to a charge of failing to account fully and accurately to the Dáil. We all have a certain responsibility here. As Members of the Dáil, we each have a responsibility in that regard.
Another point directly concerns us as public representatives. Members should be slow to blow our own trumpets but I do not think there will be a rush of journalistic commentators or others queueing up to make the point clear. In his report, Mr. Justice Charleton rejects the sworn evidence of two Garda Commissioners and other senior Garda officers. The evidence of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality is rejected as "improbable". The evidence of Tusla staff is described as "wholly unconvincing". The tribunal listed six cases where journalists flatly contradicted each other in evidence, although Mr. Justice Charleton had to decide the truth in only two of those cases. In fact, there is only one class of witness whose evidence on all matters of serious contention was accepted by the tribunal. That class consists of the Members of the Dáil who gave evidence. On all the factual issues about which they gave evidence the tribunal accepted what was said. The class includes Deputy Frances Fitzgerald but also Deputies Micheál Martin, John McGuinness, John Deasy, Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, the former Deputy, Pat Rabbitte, and my party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin.
The report contains a final chapter of recommendations. We need to return to them and consider them in detail, perhaps in committee. The tribunal outcome points above all to the importance of this House and its Members as a means of securing accountability from Government and agencies of the State. It demonstrates the importance of persistence, refusing to accept the official line, listening to outsiders and banging again and again at the closed doors until they open up and let in some light. This was a real exercise in the separation of powers between Dáil and Government. It was an exercise in Deputies using their privileged position to ensure the issue would not go away. They kept advancing it until a formal inquiry became inevitable and necessary. This is how accountability in a mature democracy is meant to work.
The tribunal report demonstrates how much we still have to learn about accountability. Let us consider this passage, for example, from page 112:
From 2016, no one within TUSLA considered owning up to the serious mistakes that had been made. The solicitors’ letter of complaint on Maurice McCabe’s behalf, sent in response to the letter from TUSLA received in January 2016, was an invitation to give a proper explanation of what had happened. Had that happened, had TUSLA senior management sat down and read the file and then forthrightly replied setting out fully the mistakes that they had made, this tribunal of inquiry would most probably have been avoided.
There are shades of CervicalCheck here in the sense of the need for an open disclosure policy, one of setting out fully and forthrightly the mistakes that have been made.
One final aspect that needs highlighting is the impact of what we have learned from Mr. Justice Charleton on our response to the recommendations of the O'Toole Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The Maurice McCabe affair demonstrates the importance of external oversight by the Dáil of the Government and its Departments and agencies. We need to improve the capacity for oversight and to make it far more effective, but the same lesson must be learned with regard to An Garda Síochána. For decades my party has called for an external Garda oversight agency. We were determined to break the secretive and damaging relationship between the force and the Department of Justice and Equality. That relationship was vividly demonstrated in the report by the flurry of telephone calls at senior level between the Phoenix Park and St Stephen's Green at times of crisis. These were calls which no one could later remember making or receiving. Their content was immediately forgotten once the line went dead.
My party was determined to secure effective Garda accountability and oversight to an independent external body. We achieved most of what we wanted when the Policing Authority was finally established. That body, under its chairperson, Josephine Feehily, has lived up to most of our expectations, although there are improvements that can be made to the legislation. That is why it is, to use Mr. Justice Charleton's term, so dispiriting to see now a recommendation to disband the Policing Authority as an external body securing oversight and to replace it instead with an in-house board of management. An in-house board will of necessity become ingrained with an in-house policing mentality. If we have learned anything from this tribunal, it is that the Garda Síochána needs far less, not more, of an in-house policing mentality. Members of the force need to be required to demonstrate fully and in public that they live up to the same basic standards of fairness, decency and common sense that bind the rest of us. As Mr. Justice Charleton put it on page 294:
Central to those issues is a mentality problem. Where a problem occurs, strongly self-identifying organisations can have a self-protective tendency. That, regrettably, also describes An Garda Síochána. It is beyond a pity that it took independent inquiries to identify obvious problems with what Maurice McCabe was reporting.
Why on earth would we react to these findings and comments by shunting accountability back inside the force and abolishing outside oversight and scrutiny? If the Government and the Dáil accept that flawed recommendation from the O'Toole commission, then we will show that we have learned nothing from the McCabe affair or the Charleton report. An Garda Síochána needs better structures of management. The number of bodies and agencies that surround it may need to be rationalised, but that must not be at the expense of the important principle - one Mr. Justice Charleton has taught us again - that policing demands accountability. As he put it on page 292:
A police force is an aspect of the entitlement of a sovereign nation to control its citizens through the rule of law. It exercises primary law enforcement. It is entitled to use force and may be armed. Where respect for the truth fades within such an organisation, where structures of command and accountability break down, and where the police do not offer a complete day of work in exchange for being remunerated by the taxpayer, an essential component of a modern country ceases to function properly. Police action may become fitful, inefficient or even dishonest. This helps no one.
This tribunal has been about calling that police force to account. The Morris Tribunal was about the same thing. The commission of investigation conducted by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, which reported to the Minister for Justice and Equality on 25 April 2016, was about the same thing. Central to these inquiries has been the truth.
This is not the time to consider abolishing any body whose function is to demand openness, accountability and the truth.
I do not have enough time to do justice to Mr. Justice Charleton and his team, who have done a great public service. I had the good fortune to attend the tribunal on several occasions. I was struck by Mr. Justice Charleton's patience, sharp intellect and wit. Some people have said he has indulged himself a little in this report. He was perfectly entitled to do so given some of the nonsense he had to sit through and listen to.
The Charleton report is a searing indictment of several State institutions, in particular, An Garda Síochána and Tusla, and the media. Mr. Justice Charleton castigated a number of journalists for frustrating the work of the tribunal and the public will. He castigated the public relations companies, which he has characterised, correctly as far as I am concerned, as a hideous development in Irish public life given the domination of spin.
In some ways, we could say Mr. Justice Charleton has probably been a little polite in his language regarding some of the individuals who appeared before him. The implications are clear, however. Many of those who gave evidence at the tribunal need what Mr. Justice Charleton referred to as a cultural shift that requires respect for the truth. In other words, he was told a whopping amount of lies.
The disclosures tribunal was established publicly to find the truth and Mr. Justice Charleton has laid bare a vast amount. This report is a real education for the people in that regard. First and most important is the total vindication Mr. Justice Charleton has given to Maurice McCabe. This cannot be understated. Sergeant McCabe is a fine policeman and a man of integrity who was repulsively denigrated. The best thing about how Mr. Justice Charleton handled Maurice McCabe is that there are no ifs or buts.
This was crucial for Maurice and his family, for his wife Lorraine and his father, the two rocks who stood behind him on this very difficult road.
I am delighted that everybody is patting Maurice on the back now and that he is the people's hero, but it was not always so. Mr. Justice Charleton pinpointed that "The facts do not amount to an exoneration of the gardaí in their treatment of Maurice McCabe". He said that his complaints generated considerable animosity, which continued over years. The station was divided. People did not want to get involved. A total of 430 former and current senior gardaí were written to by the tribunal. Only two replied, and not one of them ever heard anything derogatory about Maurice McCabe. That is improbable, to use Mr. Justice Charleton's words. He said that when Maurice was "seeking a better level of policing standards, there were plenty of people who said there was nothing wrong". I absolutely know that is the case. Arguing that was a long and lonely place in the early years, and while the terms of reference concentrated on particular aspects, it was never supposed to be a definitive account of policing in Ireland. In many ways, Mr. Justice Charleton picked up on this at the Committee of Public Accounts, which was the culmination in some ways of the first round. It was not the start of this issue but came on the back of approximately two years of raising issues in this House.
Mr. Justice Charleton has dealt with the issues very well. We do not have the time to go through all of them but, in terms of the former Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, I note the Taoiseach tweeted that we should apologise to Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. Neither I nor Deputy Wallace joined the baying hyenas here this time last year who were looking for the head of the then Minister. We made many points over the years about her handling of issues in the Department of Justice and Equality but not about people coming up in 2017 supposedly criticising her for knowledge she had in 2015 of the Commissioner's dealings at the O'Higgins commission, knowledge they all had in 2016 and did not do anything about. I do not believe I need to give an apology in that respect.
What those emails did show, however, is that what was going on at the O'Higgins tribunal was not normal. It was a big deal. There were emails, calls and frantic efforts to contact the Commissioner, and while Mr. Justice Charleton did not find that Nóirín O'Sullivan relied on false sex abuse allegations to discredit Maurice at the O'Higgins commission, we never said that she did or believed that she did. What was being said, however, and what was shown was that evidence was being produced at the O'Higgins commission to question his motivation. We had the words of Colm Smyth and, critically, the letter of 18 May and the complaint against Superintendent Michael Clancy. While Mr. Justice Charleton said that the letter "went off the rails" and that it was strange, he put it down to a mistake. Ultimately for him, the only issue was whether that had anything to do with Nóirín O'Sullivan, and as other people said it had not, he did not want to go there, but it still happened. For me, it is convenient to put it down to a mistake. What would have happened if Maurice had not had the tape?
People talk about poor Nóirín O'Sullivan, and I note the Taoiseach referred to people who precipitated her early demise. We are a long time on the record as saying that Nóirín O'Sullivan did not go quickly enough. That is nothing personal. She should never have been appointed in the first place but did she hear about Templemore? Did she hear anything about false breath tests, the treatment of other whistleblowers or any of that good stuff, all of which was going on in the background?
While Mr. Justice Charleton accurately stated that she had no hand, act or part to play in the campaign of the then Commissioner, Martin Callinan, and Dave Taylor, that is not the same as saying that she had no case to answer. In fact, he did not accept her evidence on the lack of engagement with her legal counsel or on her dealings with Noel Waters, whose evidence he did not accept either. He went on to make many comments contrary to her evidence, that her evidence was disappointing and so on. He also talked about it being improbable that she could not but have known what was being said about Maurice McCabe and, in essence, did nothing in that regard.
The report accurately condemns the then Commissioner, Martin Callinan, and Dave Taylor. That has been well aired, but they were not the only ones involved. A number of retired gardaí were criticised as being inappropriate and extraordinary in their behaviour, including Assistant Commissioner Kenny, Superintendent McGinn and Chief Superintendent Sheridan, but what about serving members? Detective Superintendent O'Reilly was promoted since the tribunal started, but Mr. Justice Charleton is quite critical that his decision to introduce Paul Williams to the D family caused further and completely unjustified pain. What will be done to him? What will be done to John Barrett, the head of human resources, whose evidence was described by Mr. Justice Charleton as preposterous? He said he was not satisfied that the conversations alluded to by John Barrett, allegedly with Cyril Dunne, ever took place. He did not believe his evidence in terms of Maurice McCabe either. That is very serious stuff.
I refer to the false rape case being an unbelievable coincidence. I accept fully the judgment of Mr. Justice Charleton on that.
Rian counselling service came out well in the report but, my God, what an indictment of Tusla. The report refers to error upon error, complete misinformation, and files being randomly selected. Mr. Justice Charleton said it was not a coincidence that Tusla opened Maurice McCabe's file. They filleted a file that went to the historical sex abuse team and replaced the file when it came back. Those are points we do not have time to deal with.
Mr. Justice Charleton said he had a dreadful struggle to uncover the truth. I believe he uncovered an incredible amount of it. He said it is a cultural and an attitude problem and that reform of An Garda Síochána and coming up with new structures will not deal with it. I agree with him on that.
I have read the report. I would like to have an hour to make my contribution but I have only a few minutes. On 8 June, Mr. Justice Peter Charleton said "I know that an awful lot of people haven't been telling me the truth". I welcome Mr. Justice Charleton’s report. He had a very difficult job. He said it was a dreadful struggle, but he has done incredibly well.
We attended more than 25 of the 102 days of the tribunal hearings. Chris Noonan, my parliamentary assistant, attended most days. At times, it was a depressing experience. It was hard to listen to public servants, in some cases retired Secretaries General, and Garda Commissioners, take the stand and be so economical with the truth.
I have no intention of being critical of Mr. Justice Charleton’s report. It is excellent. While he was merciless in much of his report, and rightly so - he certainly did not spare Tusla or the Garda Síochána organisation - there were times when I thought his kind nature got the better of him.
With any tribunal or commission of investigation, before one looks at the final report, one must look at the terms of reference and analyse how these may confine what the judge can examine. Aside from being limited by the terms of reference, things were made immensely more difficult for him on this occasion due to the fact that so many people refused to tell the truth.
Former press officer David Taylor was not spared, and rightly so. Mr. Justice Charleton is someone we have come to admire very much, and one of his more admirable features is his intolerance for those blatantly lying to him. David Taylor was one of them.
Both I and Deputy Clare Daly met David Taylor in his living room shortly after he made his protected disclosure. Just why he decided to go into the tribunal and give a different version of events from that which he had given us is beyond us. It was a serious mistake on his part, and he has paid a high price for it.
When the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Noel Waters, stated that he could not remember a 14 minute phone call between himself and Nóirín O'Sullivan during the O'Higgins commission, Mr. Justice Charleton referred to it as improbable. It was more than improbable.
Mr. Justice Charleton lambasted David Taylor with his ridiculous excuses regarding the two phones he did not cough up, so to speak. I would have liked him to grill Nóirín O'Sullivan about the five phones she refused to cough up.
Maurice McCabe requested a tribunal so that events would be examined in public rather than in private. He was right to do so. Mr. Justice Cooke is investigating NAMA’s sale of Project Eagle. I can only imagine the lies he is being told. Obviously, Mr. Justice Charleton was told buckets of lies too, but it was in public, and the difference is that the public got the opportunity to see it. The Charleton tribunal has lifted the lid on how the establishment has no problem with lying.
He has been slightly written out of history but people forget that Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill was originally tasked with examining the disclosures of David Taylor and Maurice McCabe. He recommended that a commission of investigation be set up and drafted the terms of reference, the majority of which were used by the tribunal. The ones he did not draft caused the most trouble, in particular, term of reference (e), which tasked Mr. Justice Charleton with examining the O’Higgins commission and whether false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by Nóirín O'Sullivan to discredit Sergeant McCabe. That was too narrow, and it did not allow Mr. Justice Charleton to examine some of the other critical issues that played out during the O'Higgins commission. He was only allowed assess Nóirín O'Sullivan's role in regard to the O’Higgins commission, specifically whether she used a false allegation of rape to discredit Maurice. We never alleged that or believed Nóirín O'Sullivan to be guilty of it. We did allege many other things, and with good reason.
The famous letter of 18 May handed to the commission setting out the motivations of Maurice McCabe has fallen through the cracks.
Mr. Justice Charleton said it was accurate to a point and then it went off the rails. It is much worse than that; it is a pure work of fiction.
In respect of the letter of 18 May, Mr. Justice Charleton found that there was no deliberate attempt to write a series of quite silly mistakes by way of a submission undermining Maurice McCabe to the O’Higgins commission. I beg to differ. If mistakes were made and accepted, why did they always go against Maurice McCabe? If Chief Superintendent Rooney and Superintendent Cunningham had nothing to hide with regard to their input into the letter, why did they claim privilege in respect of it when they were before the tribunal?
With regard to the role of Nóirín O'Sullivan in the smear campaign, Mr. Justice Charleton found that she had no role in it, but also found that it was improbable that she did not know it was happening. I would have liked him to build on that finding. A deputy commissioner of An Garda Síochána has a duty of care to all of its officers, and Nóirín O'Sullivan knew what Commissioner Callinan was doing, yet she failed to act.
As I said, there was much that Mr. Justice Charleton could not comment on due to the terms of reference, and that is a pity. There has been a rewriting of history by both the media and the political establishment with regard to the story of Garda malpractice and how the issues came to light. This Chamber was a lonely place in 2012 and 2013 when we were highlighting the penalty points issues and other Garda wrongdoings.
Mr. Justice Charleton referred to the O’Mahoney report and stated that the report found no evidence of crime, corruption, deception or falsification. Obviously, he could not make findings on that report. Although it is now completely discredited, when the report was published, it was heralded. The former Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, went onto the plinth of Leinster House and abused the whistleblowers, and Martin Callinan told the Oireachtas committee that Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney's report was credible and factually correct and that it was based on fact. That is not true. Those lines were accepted by the media at the time without any scrutiny and our protestations were rubbished.
Mr. Justice Charleton also touched upon a letter Chief Superintendent Rooney passed around to local gardaí in the Cavan-Monaghan division in 2011, congratulating everyone involved in the Byrne-McGinn inquiry on their good work. Chief Superintendent Rooney apologised for this letter at the tribunal and Mr. Justice Charleton stated that the apology was belated. It was more than belated; it was a disgrace of a letter.
On the media, the Charleton report stated that the tribunal had the greatest difficulty in getting any information from journalists and that journalistic privilege has two parts, the entitlement to assert it and the right of society to override it in the interest of a pressing national concern. I have not noticed many journalists quoting Mr. Justice Charleton on that. In terms of the media coverage of the events at Dublin Castle, Olga Cronin from broadsheet.ie, Sean Murray of thejournal.ie, and Mick Clifford deserve to be singled out for praise. Some of what was written would certainly have prevented Mr. Justice Charleton from enjoying his breakfast if he had the misfortune to have read it.
In his conclusion, Mr. Justice Charleton states that a tribunal, having completed its work, might hope that thereby some improvement could occur. He states that a tribunal should speak freely and should in no way be trapped by the temptation of cynicism that nothing may change. I believe that this tribunal was worthwhile. I believe things will change for the better. Mr. Justice Peter Charleton has done the State a great service, unlike so many who went up to Dublin Castle to tell him lies.
Next is the slot for the Rural Independents. I call Deputy Michael Harty.
I am glad to be able to contribute to the debate on the disclosures tribunal. The Charleton inquiry referred to many players. In respect of Martin Callinan, the former Garda Commissioner, it found that he had engaged in a campaign of calumny against Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Mr. Justice Charleton did not accept the former Commissioner's evidence that he had not engaged in a smear campaign against Sergeant McCabe. That is a very serious finding. Mr. Justice Charleton upheld the evidence of Deputy John McGuinness, Deputy John Deasy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, and journalist, Philip Boucher-Hayes, that Callinan had smeared Sergeant McCabe, repeating false allegations about him. Mr. Justice Charleton says that the former Commissioner's evidence under oath was found to be unreliable, and that this smear campaign was actively aided by the Garda press officer, Superintendent David Taylor, who had lied to the tribunal and had tried to implicate the former Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, in the smear campaign because he was not promoted but moved to the traffic corps. Again, these are very serious allegations. Mr. Justice Charleton was also critical of the culture within the Garda Síochána in general.
In respect of former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, Mr. Justice Charleton found no evidence that she had any hand, act or part in a smear campaign against Sergeant McCabe but found it improbable that she was not aware of such a campaign. He found no evidence that she instructed her legal team to make unfounded allegations against Sergeant McCabe during the private hearings of the O’Higgins commission, which was investigating allegations from Sergeant McCabe into low policing standards in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
Maurice McCabe was vindicated by the tribunal. Mr. Justice Charleton said he stood up for better standards in An Garda Síochána and tried his best to tell the truth at all times. He suffered for challenging the establishment while demanding better standards and professionalism within An Garda Síochána. This is one of the most important findings of the report.
Mr. Justice Charleton harshly criticised Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, accusing it of astounding inefficiency in creating in the first place an error of false accusations of sexual abuse, then not noticing its error of false accusations against Sergeant McCabe, and finally not correcting the error when it was identified. The error was described by Mr. Justice Charleton as one of the most unlikely coincidences ever to be accepted by a judicial tribunal.
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald was forced to resign as Minister for Justice and Equality in November 2017. Mr. Justice Charleton found the accusation that she knew of the alleged Garda Síochána legal strategy to undermine Sergeant McCabe at the O’Higgins commission to be false. He clearly exonerated the former Minister and found that she had acted properly at all times and had not engaged with former Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan about the matter of the legal strategy at the O’Higgins commission, nor allowed Sergeant McCabe to be unjustly treated in any way. He found that she selflessly decided to resign in the national interest and had been the victim of a political furore, with allegations made by the Opposition which were clearly incorrect and based on misleading leaks from the O’Higgins commission. None of these allegations against Deputy Frances Fitzgerald has been upheld by Mr. Justice Charleton or found to have any foundation.
What happens in this House is often akin to the wild west in that we shoot first and ask questions later. What benefit did the resignation of Deputy Fitzgerald bring to Sergeant McCabe’s situation? What benefit did the resignation of Tony O’Brien bring to the CervicalCheck controversy? Will the resignation of Deputy Denis Naughten as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment advance the roll-out of the national broadband plan? I doubt it very much. These resignations satisfy the demand for a head for political and media gratification at the time. Often, however, individuals are later exonerated when the full facts become available. Calling for resignations is clearly popular but unless the evidence against the person is overwhelming, they should be called for with a large health warning.
I am delighted to be able to say a few words this evening. I thank Mr. Justice Charleton for his arduous and diligent work on behalf of all of us in the State.
The findings of the report issued by Mr. Justice Charleton last week truly bring us back to GUBU territory. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might remember that. He was around this House and I was an active member of Fianna Fáil at the time. The findings truly are grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. The most senior garda in the State, someone with access to the most sensitive information possible, was found to have conducted a campaign of terror against an innocent member of the rank and file, Sergeant Maurice McCabe. We have to have sympathy and respect for Sergeant McCabe's family. This went beyond what we might call the usual spectacle of organisational incompetence or mismanagement. It was personal and vicious. The report highlights that beneath the seemingly respectable façade of so much of our society, particularly at the higher levels, there is a nauseating level of disregard for the interests of the ordinary person.
Institutions and organisations such as the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, were found to be operating with staggering levels of incompetence, despite being tasked with making decisions on a daily basis that affected families at the most intimate and long-lasting level.
We seem to go through this sorry charade every few months. We come here on the back of yet another damning report and pour out our scorn and anger. We make solemn promises that nothing like this will be repeated and that safeguards are being put in place, yet time and again we end up right back where we started. It is shocking. This is yet another scandal and betrayal by those in power and still nothing changes.
I want to read a particular quote:
Corruption can occur in many guises: here it was the abuse of police investigation ... Equally, other forms of corruption, such as looking the other way, bribery, the taking of short cuts in investigations, the construction of cases based upon lies and many other examples can occur at any time. What is most serious about the situation ... is the lack of leadership shown by officers at senior level whereby obvious questions were not asked. In the result, a growing situation of deceit was allowed to blossom to its fullest extent when the application of discipline and the energetic pursuit of proper standards would have snuffed out that growth at an early stage.
That is a direct quote from the Morris tribunal report of 2002. Sixteen years later we are right back at that place where, as I quoted, a growing situation of deceit was allowed to blossom to its fullest extent when the application of discipline and the energetic pursuit of proper standards would have snuffed out that growth at an early stage. That is the sad part about it and 16 years later we have a sense of déjà vu.
That is to say nothing about Tusla. I have considerable experience of this organisation with respect to grandparents and fostering, even though I accept that the Minister did address the issue in a very co-operative manner. However, the organisation is not and has not been fit for purpose. A huge section of it was hived off from the HSE and allowed to do what it liked with whom it liked. Obviously, there are many good people in it who are called in to deal with many challenging cases of children in awful circumstances. That is why they need to be more diligent and cautious. While I am not naming and blaming anyone, it is dreadful that a junior official was so inexperienced or ill-judged as to just copy and paste a most disgusting, awful, false allegation and give it legs and put it out as a vicious and pernicious rumour. It was then compounded by those at a senior level not taking corrective actions.
We have to salute Mr. Justice Charleton and Mr. Justice Morris, but what are we learning from this? I note that the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has left the Chamber. I, for one, never called for the resignation of the previous Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I always thought she was being harshly treated and I am delighted that she was vindicated. I told her so privately and personally at the time. She went through hell, as did her family, supporters and friends, perhaps all in the pursuit of headlines, but it was very unfair. We are all entitled to our good name, including Sergeant Maurice McCabe. One only has it once and if it is denigrated, attacked and challenged, it is a smear.
There are many situations throughout the country. I can speak about a situation in Dungarvan, County Waterford involving Anne Marie O'Brien who has visited Leinster House. She recently wrote to many Deputies to try to get justice or answers about what happened to her brother and Mr. Patrick Esmond who went fishing off Helvick Head ten years ago. Their little dinghy was turned upside down and both lives were lost. There was no meaningful investigation carried out by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, no proper Garda investigation and, above all, there have been no answers to this day. There have been other cases, including in County Donegal and the case of Fr. Malloy in County Offaly. There are many cover-ups; it is disgusting.
I will not go into detail, but I was dragged into a court case and subject to shabby treatment at Dungarvan Garda station. Half of the evidence and statements were not sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, only the ones that were used to try to incriminate me. Several more that supported my view were never sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and there were no answers and no redress. It cost me a fortune in time, energy and money. There was an attempt to denigrate me and keep me out of this House in 2007. It was orchestrated and the worst type of politics. That is why I supported the Bill which was championed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to change the Judiciary and which included the provision of refresher courses for judges.
I always say we need to support An Garda Síochána. At all times 99.9% of the men and women on the beat do their best. However, we must weed out any distasteful behaviour. Unfortunately, it seems to come from the top down. Superintendent Taylor is a constituent of mine. He comes from a decent family in Cashel, County Tipperary and I believe he is the fall guy. It is a case of break your boss before you break his orders. I believe he was doing his duty. While he erred grievously and was foolish in the extreme, he has to continue with life. I believe he is the fall guy for many more senior officers. That is what goes on. Something that starts with the letter "S" only flows one way and it is down, not up. We need to support the men and women of An Garda Síochána and give them the proper tools of the trade. We need to support the good gardaí - sergeants, inspectors, detectives, the people who go undercover to try to deal with drugs and everything else, up along to superintendents. However, we need to stop the cavalier expectation and self-serving ideas to try to get to the top in a hurry as it always leads to damage and loss of reputation. From here they will have to pick up the pieces.
I wish the new Garda Commissioner well. He has some baggage judging from comments he made about previous investigations when two very serious people in Northern Ireland lost their lives across the Border. I believe he must be supported, but he did not make a good start. One of the first big statements he came out with was related to the curtailment of overtime. It will have a massive impact in County Tipperary, further demoralising an already demoralised force. It needs to have the tools of the trade and the support of senior officials.
I will allow Deputy Michael Healy-Rae to take the remaining time.
I was actually coming into the Chamber in time for the next debate. I was listening in the office to Deputy Mattie McGrath's contribution and concur with him. We are both part of the Rural Independent Group. We work together on some issues and as individuals on others. I also have my concerns, as do Deputy Mattie McGrath and other members of the group. It was unfortunate to see individuals being picked out in the way that this happened.
As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know, I am not a person who talks about any individual and would never like to do so. I definitely would not name people inside the House. However, we all know what happened. It was a bad time for An Garda Síochána. The one thing every one of us recognises is that 99% of the members of An Garda Síochána, whether they are senior officers or further down the ranks, are 100% respectable. However, there will always be a rogue element in the middle of every group. When it comes to some of the individuals involved, perhaps if I ever get to tell my own story of how I was picked out, it will make for interesting reading. However, I will not tell that story until I am no longer a Member of this House because there is enough going on.
We will be waiting a long time.
I will put it this way. I certainly have an event or two to recall, but I am not that type of person. I know what was tried and failed and the individuals involved. It would make for interesting times, but it will be a long time before I tell. I have indicated it here because it certainly was an eventful time in my life. When there are people who are colluding to pull you down, it is not nice.
I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I commend Mr. Justice Charleton on his extraordinary work.
He has done the State an extraordinary service with his report which is wide-ranging. It is very complimentary to Sergeant McCabe and damning of others. Most importantly, it draws very clear lessons on a number of public services, how they are organised and the unhealthy culture that underpins some of them which is crying out for reform and needs to be dealt with at the highest level of government, but more about that anon.
I also draw attention to the fact that Mr. Justice Charleton instances a number of occasions on which things could have been done differently and states that if they had, there would not have been a need for the tribunal. I add to those comments by saying that if senior people in government - I include, in particular, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny - had taken a different attitude to the whistleblowing of Sergeant McCabe from the beginning, there would not have been a need for the tribunal.
The most striking aspect of the tribunal is the fact that Mr. Justice Charleton very much endorses a view that many of us and the public at large have of Sergeant McCabe through the finding that he is an entirely genuine person who did the State some service. The report effectively is a total vindication of his work. It has found that he "had the interests of the people of Ireland uppermost in his mind". That attitude and view of Sergeant McCabe permeates the entire report of the tribunal.
We know that, personally, Sergeant McCabe and his wife, Lorraine, and family have been through the most awful time imaginable in recent years and that he was coping with this in the full glare of the media and the public eye. It is a measure of his strength and that of his wife and family that they were able to withstand and come out of it not just totally vindicated but also as such a strong person and family. Mr. Justice Charleton refers to this by making the statement that Sergeamt McCabe "remains an officer of exemplary character and ... a person of admirable fortitude," in spite of all the enormous personal and professional difficulties with which he was faced in recent years. We, undoubtedly, owe him an enormous debt of gratitude and I think that very heartfelt feeling is shared right around the country for the extraordinary public service he has done. We can only express our heartfelt thanks and wish him and his family the very best for the future.
The Charleton report has found that Sergeant McCabe "was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer". It has also found: "In investigating the calumny against him, other aspects of our national life have been laid bare". These are critical findings of the tribunal. I note that the Minister for Justice and Equality did not say a huge amount about those other aspects of our national life that have been laid bare. I would have thought that, one week after the report came out, there would have been a more substantive response from the Government on the huge problems in some public services that have been laid bare in the report. In that regard, I certainly hope the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will also be responding in this debate on areas within her responsibility. I have not heard that she is going to do so, but I expect that she will. It was disappointing to hear the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, earlier. His contribution fell very far short of what was required in response to the very deep problems and deep dysfunction that Mr. Justice Charleton had found, particularly in the Garda and Tusla.
On the severe findings made in the report against individuals, clearly, the stand-out person is the ex-Garda Commissioner Mr. Martin Callinan. The report has found that he engaged in a deliberate campaign to denigrate and smear Sergeant McCabe. It has to be said again that action could have been taken at an early stage when the then Commissioner made his infamous "disgusting" remark at the Committee of Public Account. That was a stand-out moment when action should have been taken, but it was not. Rather than the matter being dealt with, what we had was a circling of the wagons and senior Government people coming to the defence of the then Commissioner, which clearly was a mistake. One can say with regard to the deep-seated problems to which Mr. Justice Charleton refers within the Garda, that Mr. Callinan was the embodiment of a lot of them.
Equally, it was found that the then press officer, the now retired Superintendent Dave Taylor, who had been hand-picked by Mr. Callinan, had lacked all credibility as a witness. The report states:
...Superintendent David Taylor is a witness whose credibility was completely undermined by his own bitterness and by the untruthful nature of his affidavit ... [H]is motivation in bringing forward this allegation was to stop or undermine a criminal investigation rightly being taken against him...
This is very damning of him and also a dreadful reflection on the fact that he was the person who had been chosen to operate as the front person for the Garda. That was an extraordinary decision and it has to be down to Mr. Callinan.
On Tusla, what Mr. Justice Charleton has shown up is that it is an utterly dysfunctional organisation. While it is one which is extremely important insofar as it has been charged with responsibilities related to child welfare and child protection, that it could be shown to be so utterly dysfunctional and worse raises huge issues about accountability in the organisation and the need for political leadership in addressing the issues that have been identified. The Charleton report talks about "startling inefficiency and indolence" within the service, a situation where a letter from Tusla was delivered to the wrong address and a mix-up with files. It would be hard to make it up, given that the mistakes made were so grave. Extraordinarily, the conclusion come to by many that it had to have been a stitch-up was found to have been a coincidence. While I am not doubting that finding, the fact that there could have been such a litany of errors that were so damaging to Sergeant McCabe and that they took place within a new and supposedly modern organisation beggars belief. The depth of the dysfunction in the organisation that such errors could have been made is shocking.
Mr. Justice Charleton refers in his report to procedures being chaotic and says there was inertia in management in the Cavan-Monaghan district. While the mistake was discovered almost immediately, that was because when Ms D came to know of the rape allegation against Maurice McCabe, she protested that she had never claimed such a thing. If she had not come forward and done that, who knows what the outcome would have been? Mr. Justice Charleton said that should have resulted in an immediate and definitive correction within Tusla but it did not. Not only were serious errors made all along the way in the handling of the two complaints in respect of Maurice McCabe, the response of management was wholly inadequate when the errors came to light.
Mr. Justice Charleton also said that another essential procedure was not followed in 2006 and 2007, namely, the standard procedure by which a serious allegation of abuse against a person is put to that person. That never happened. There were breaches of procedure and protocol all over the place. Furthermore, the tribunal realised that the file had been filleted, in the term used by Mr Justice Charleton, which points to a huge level of dishonesty within the organisation. It points also to a huge level of dysfunction and a failure to stand up for the truth. Where serious errors were found, there was a complete and utter failure on the part of management to deal appropriately with them. These failures raise the most significant issues for the political system, in particular the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and how she will respond. This organisation was set up specifically to deal with child protection issues arising from the failings of the HSE, but it turns out that it is entirely dysfunctional.
The other issue relates to An Garda Síochána, in respect of which Mr Justice Charleton's findings are damning. He found a failure to be honest, to stand up for the truth and to come forward when wrongdoing was discovered. He found a mentality within the organisation which was more concerned with protecting itself and covering up than about the truth and serving the public interest. That mentality has been identified on umpteen occasions in some of our public bodies. It is a culture of going along to get along where loyalty to the organisation is more important than the truth or serving the public interest. The first responsibility of public servants is to serve the public and the public interest. Tusla and the Garda, however, have been found seriously wanting in that regard. Mr Justice Charleton said that the Garda offered no criticism of itself at all and that the force required a complete turnaround in its attitude.
Some members of the force were commended, for example, Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn. Mr. Justice Charleton said our police force was a resource of brilliant men and women and that while it was a single entry service, it regularly produced people of extraordinary devotion to duty and intelligence at the highest levels. As such, he said it is the police force that needs to be supported and fostered. He noted how dispiriting this must be for good and conscientious gardaí who are crying out for leadership within the force and at political level. Mr. Justice Charleton said that what is needed, therefore, is a serious change in culture.
In that regard, it is important to bear in mind the comments in the minority report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. In light of what Mr Justice Charleton has found, the Minister must look at that minority report again. It was produced by Ms Vicky Conway and Dr. Eddie Molloy and has been supported by some very eminent people, including Denis Bradley and Professor Dermot Walsh. What is required for the Garda more than anything else is independent oversight which is not captured by the Department of Justice and Equality or senior members of the force. I call on the Minister to change his approach in that regard.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important issue, albeit only ten minutes. I could speak for a great deal longer, but that is for another day. At the outset, I commend Mr Justice Charleton on identifying Sergeant Maurice McCabe as an innocent victim of circumstances over which he had no control. That is as it should be. Many others, however, have something to answer for.
I took more than a passing interest in the circumstances which led to this inquiry, given that I was a member for many years of the Committee of Public Accounts, the proceedings of which I followed quite closely. I also watched the proceedings in the House. The Government and the Opposition must be responsible at all times and in whatever circumstances they find themselves. On one occasion as I watched the proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts, however, it was clear to me that there was interaction between some of the witnesses and some of the questioners. That is out of order on two grounds. First, the then Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, was subjected to a kangaroo court. She was driven out of office by virtue of the various allegations made against her and to which she had, at the time, no way to respond which would have been believed. People were saying they did not believe her, which is an extraordinary thing to do when people are in a quasi-judicial situation. The major casualty was the truth. Everybody was talking about the issues coming down the track and the leaks which every day were becoming more and more convincing. There was cross-questioning of the witness before the committee which took on the appearance of McCarthyism. The witness was questioned again and again to confuse her. She was asked to remember specific incidents on specific days and conversations with various people. I hope those who are responsible will apologise to Ms O'Sullivan for the injustice done to her.
In my time in the House, I have never seen any other public official drummed from office in that fashion. It is a sad reflection on our society and on the House that we allowed it to happen. I hope sincerely that it does not happen again. If it does, no one will want to take up public office, including the office of Garda Commissioner. I remember one day going deliberately to a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts. This was an issue in respect of which the committee had no function whatsoever. The Committee of Public Accounts has no function other than to address financial issues arising from the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General and making decisions and notes in that respect. It has no function as far as inquiries are concerned. The one inquiry it carried out was the DIRT inquiry, and it was legislated for specifically. It worked, although some of us who participated were not very well rewarded in subsequent elections. So much for that. I was appalled at the way the committee conducted the business under discussion tonight and I hope sincerely that corrective action will be taken.
In all things of this nature, two things must prevail, namely, due process and natural justice. Everyone has the right to his or her good name, to be believed, to state his or her case and to maintain his or her position without being ridiculed and confused. Everyone has the right to a fair hearing. In this particular situation, no one was accused directly except by stealth, speculation, innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations. Eventually, matters came to a head and the Commissioner decided to call it a day. It was a sad time. This is a question of natural justice.
In my time on the Committee of Public Accounts we were always warned to ensure that we observed these principles and avoided becoming involved in policy. Whatever the policy of any particular Department, the committee had and still has no function in that area. It should not have a function in that area because that would constitute the setting up of a second Government. That does not and cannot happen.
We also had leaks virtually two or three times per day, each more incriminating than the one before it. It now transpires, thanks to the Charleton tribunal, that these leaks were incorrect, misleading, wrong and false. They were allegations made to do a particular job, namely, to do down a public official. I would be one of the first people to say we should always question public officials forensically. We must, however, have respect for them, the role and public service they perform in society and the need for accountability at all times.
I now turn to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who likewise was drummed from office by a kangaroo court, first of the Committee of Public Accounts and then of this House. We were all here at the time, and every effort was made to undermine the then Tánaiste in the carrying out of her job and to lay allegations at her feet that did not stand up. She is now vindicated, but who will apologise to her or to Nóirín O'Sullivan? No one, because it was not done in the interests of society but in the pursuit of politics. People said afterwards, "That is politics." It is not and never was politics. There was a code of honour in this House once upon a time whereby we all tried to do the best we could and tried to ensure we did not offend our neighbour or our opponent. We rose to do the best we could for society and for the House, for Parliament, at any given time, and that worked. Sadly, this has been laid to rest. I do not propose to go through quotations from the various people in this House and outside it during that period. Suffice to say we were treated daily to information that was about to be disclosed, secret information that no one knew about, information to the effect that there was going to be a serious problem and that the Minister would have to resign. It was another kangaroo court and a sad reflection on society, on this House and on our so-called enlightened times.
It was also a sad reflection on the way we now purport to accept the role women play in our society. It was an era we would be better off forgetting because at that time women were persistently pursued by the system that applies in this House and around it. It was without a shadow of a doubt an anti-woman campaign involving An Garda Síochána, the then Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and, in some moments, the Attorney General. The list goes on. I remember every moment of this and I have a number of quotations here that I could easily go through if I wanted to. I want only to remind the people who spoke at that time that they owe the then Minister for Justice and Equality an apology. She was seriously damaged by innuendo, suspicion and an undermining of her in the same way that McCarthyism succeeded in the United States all those years ago. I feel ashamed when I think about the way in which these women were treated. We should offer an apology on behalf of the House to them, at least to give an indication that we, as politicians in this House, do not and will not stand for that kind of thing in any event in respect of any Member of the House, man or woman.
I hope this is the last episode we see of this kind of political assassination. I remember at the time doing interviews. When asked about the matter insofar as the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality was concerned, I said she refused to do what she should not do. She was vindicated. I stand over that comment still. We now wait for those who made all the allegations to come forward and offer their apologies.