Deputy Catherine Murphy has ten minutes.
Commission of Investigation (Certain Matters Relative to the Cavan-Monaghan Division of An Garda Síochána) Report: Statements (Resumed)
Do I not have a longer slot?
You have ten minutes, according to my notes.
I should clarify this as others had 30 minutes. I am sharing with Deputy Shortall.
We can check that and let the Deputy know.
The O'Higgins report is one in a series of reports. It is important because it brings into context many of the allegations made by the whistleblowers. We are seeing some of the individual failings being played out. It cannot be said often enough that the selective leaking, particularly in managing the perception of what is in the report, has been outrageous.
Anybody without the report before it was published could not read it and make a judgment about what the report found. It sought to damage Maurice McCabe, which is also outrageous.
The matters considered under the terms of the report have wide-ranging repercussions not just for political organisations and the Garda but for society as a whole. There is a letter from the Garda Commissioner clarifying matters.
The Deputy is absolutely correct, there are 30 minutes in the slot.
Thank you. A section of the letter reads, "I can confirm that An Garda Síochána's legal team was not at any stage instructed to impugn the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe or make a case that he was acting maliciously". There is a bit of a paradox in that if one completely accepts that point - I do not want to second-guess the Garda Commissioner - there are two opposing stories and both of them cannot be right. If this is accepted at face value, one side is being taken. In the absence of other information, that is not the correct action.
It is only natural that people feel suspicious and the whole idea of the report is to start a healing process, find out what went wrong and make recommendations in order to ensure that it does not happen again. If there is a question of a dispute, how will we get to the heart of the mistrust? That must be nailed and people must be confident that something was not being said on the outside on one hand, that the Commissioner had full confidence in and was very complimentary of Sergeant McCabe, but on the other there was a briefing to a legal team suggesting something other than that. Even if that is corrected later, trust will not be built within communities or the Garda unless we have full explanations and understanding. People need to be able to accept what is being said.
The stated intention is one thing but the questions surrounding the briefing given by the Garda Commissioner's legal team are an essential issue if we are to restore confidence. There is no doubt that Sergeant McCabe was a very wise man to tape that meeting. It is appalling that he had to do it but had he not done so, we may well have ended up with a very different scenario for him. The report finds major shortcomings in line with what he indicated. He has done a service in that context.
We have all met people who were subject to crime, particularly violent crime where there was no prosecution. It is only in dealing with them that we realise there is a deep sense of frustration with a crime in itself, with the frustration copperfastened if the crime is not properly prosecuted or there is a failing in its prosecution. We all have people coming to us about such issues. I have met Lucia O'Farrell a couple of times and the first item on the front page of the report she gave me is a picture of her lovely son, who was murdered. She will spend the rest of her life trying to get justice and she is looking at somebody who was part and parcel of some of the failings in the process, although not in the same district. That is completely unacceptable.
The problem is that this is not the first report we have had and we have seen a series of them. There is some similarity in some of the recommendations of those reports and what we are discussing today. They include investment in modern information technology systems, which was included in the recommendations of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate report. Another recommendation was the development of in-service training programmes. Many of these are just replicated. I have no doubt that some of these are being acted upon on foot of other reports, but how many more reports are required to get to a point where we can have confidence in the process? It is not just about public confidence but confidence within the force. It is having a very obvious and understandable impact on morale.
I work closely with gardaí in my area and there is a pretty good working relationship. On nearly all the occasions I have gone to them, I felt I had a fair hearing when something needed to be looked at. We can consider how gardaí are deployed and supervised but less supervision would be needed in somewhere like Kildare because there is not a fair allocation of resources. We have the lowest ratio of gardaí to population. There are some crimes with a low detection rate, such as road traffic offences and some drug offences, not because they do not exist but because we do not have the gardaí to take a proactive approach in detection. There is a deep unfairness about how resources are allocated. That is an issue regarding supervision and how resources are deployed. Every year we get a policing plan and I contributed a report about how gardaí are deployed in areas where disadvantage has been developing. There has been no catch-up in those areas.
I have sent it to the new Garda authority because the policing plan has been brought in here every year and for the last five years I have compared one policing plan to the next and it is a cut and paste job. There are a few minor changes, but it does not reflect things like crime rates and demographic changes. If it does not reflect them, it is a case of, as an assistant Garda commissioner said to me, what we have we hold, so we never get the kind of changes we need. We only get those changes in a reactive way where there is a big event, like what we are seeing in the north inner city. Then a reactive approach to policing is taken, rather than a proactive approach. It is only when one starts looking at the supports that have been taken out of some of the most disadvantaged communities that one starts looking at the areas in which this kind of major event will erupt. They do not happen to be dominant in places like south Dublin or some of the more rural constituencies; they will happen in areas where there is a degree of social disadvantage. The housing crisis and the mental health crisis have been added to the reduction of support for communities, such as the reduction in youth activation initiatives, the drugs task force funding, the community development programme, CDP, funding, and diversion funding. All of that is about a price being paid, but the price is paid in a reactive way, rather than a proactive way, which would assist in making sure we do not get to a point where there is a crisis and then there must be a response to it. In the same way we saw this happen in Limerick, we are seeing it in the north inner city of Dublin. Until people start realising this and planning to invest in those communities through that kind of programme, we will keep seeing these cycles of crime, and very serious crime at that.
The conclusions of the O'Higgins report are that the commission found problems at many levels within the Garda regarding the issues examined. One of the key findings of the report concerned the position of the sergeants in charge. Gardaí will always say that is the most important of the ranks. The sergeant is the person who organises and plans the work. In nearly every report that I have seen, that has cropped up as a failing. Some of the reductions in spending on the criminal justice system have been problematic as regards making sure those ranks can be filled. There is a problem in that, for example, there are situations where a sergeant is financially disadvantaged by taking a promotion. They might have to work overtime to make up the difference. That is a failing: we will not fill the ranks with people unless there is a realisation that it will cost us money to put in the kind of supervision that is required to have a functioning force. Discouraging people from taking roles of responsibility is a recipe for disaster, not least because other findings of the report point to systemic failures of supervision and performance management throughout the force. With such serious failures, how can we legitimately expect the Garda to be capable of dealing with the day-to-day crime in communities throughout Ireland, let alone the murder spree in the capital city?
We need to know the optimum numbers of gardaí in the various tiers. We need a proper debate on that in the context of a budget, but we cannot separate that from the kind of funding that would, for example, go into youth programmes and diversion programmes. That has to be the other side of the same discussion. Other than that, it is a question of intervening to make sure we have a more equal society where we do not have areas where there are high levels of deprivation, so that we get to the cause of crime, as well as reacting to it.
At the outset, I want to make a point about the very serious question of the leaking of the report. I must say that shades of the beef tribunal come to mind. It is entirely unacceptable that a report of this seriousness should be leaked in a particular way that resulted in us getting a very unbalanced account of what was in the report over a number of nights on RTE news. Action needs to be taken on that. More worryingly, in the reply to a recent parliamentary question I submitted on this issue, the Minister indicated that she was not going to take any action in this area at all. It is not acceptable and it should be addressed.
The O’Higgins report deals with a litany of failings in certain sections of An Garda Síochána. Of most concern is the fact that a woman was killed and undoubtedly official failings played a part. In many instances, victims were not treated properly or professionally. Probationer gardaí were not trained or supervised appropriately, whistleblowers were seriously mistreated and basic yet crucial duties, such as note-taking, checking PULSE records and other regular duties of gardaí, were not performed adequately. The report also serves as a reminder of ongoing concerns about the inadequacy of our bail laws, the frustrations of gardaí with the bail system, and the lack of accountability of the Judiciary in certain cases. It also details, in fairness, some good work undertaken by gardaí at several levels of the force. Overall, though, it draws attention to a number of significant failings of management in relation to the Garda, which must now be urgently addressed by the Minister.
However, the fallout of the O’Higgins report now centres on the actions of the legal team representing the Garda Commissioner at the O’Higgins commission. It has been widely reported that counsel for the Garda Commissioner claimed he was instructed to challenge the credibility and motivation of Sergeant Maurice McCabe during the course of the commission. It would appear that this was confirmed, because he apparently reiterated this after double-checking that instruction during the course of the proceedings of the commission. It was only after counsel for Sergeant McCabe became aware that this was to be the legal strategy of the Commissioner that Sergeant McCabe revealed the recording and blew that strategy out of the water.
I note the statement made by the Garda Commissioner yesterday, in which she states, “An Garda Síochána’s legal team was not at any stage instructed to impugn the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe or to make a case that he was acting maliciously”. She then appears to admit that the legal team was instructed to challenge the credibility and motivation of Sergeant McCabe. Much has been made of the distinction between integrity and motivation but in most people's eyes questioning Sergeant McCabe’s motivation is precisely the same as questioning his integrity.
Several issues arise from this, and the public needs straight answers to straight questions. If the Garda Commissioner did not instruct her legal team to question the integrity of Garda McCabe, then why did this happen, even after counsel double-checked his instruction? Leaving aside the word “integrity,” did the Garda Commissioner instruct the legal team to question the motivation and credibility of Sergeant McCabe? We need to know the answer to that question. If she did instruct her legal team in that regard then why exactly did she do so? On what basis did she take that action? What caused her to take a different view of Maurice McCabe in private from the one she took in public? What evidence had she that Sergeant McCabe’s motivation was not entirely well intentioned? On whose advice did she take this action, or does she believe she was lied to? These questions must be answered sooner rather than later.
From the public’s point of view, there appears to have been a plan to use the proceedings of the commission to again attempt to blacken the name of Maurice McCabe. In a most serious twist, the two gardaí who interviewed Sergeant McCabe in Mullingar were apparently willing to give what amounted to - at a minimum - false evidence against Sergeant McCabe. If Maurice McCabe had not been able to produce a taped conversation to prove that this evidence was false, that attempt may well have proven successful - and then, would we have known anything about what went on behind the scenes?
The public needs to know if the Garda Commissioner was aware of the apparent plan to provide false evidence to the O'Higgins inquiry. This is a fundamental question which needs to be answered. Why is the Garda Commissioner only now referring this episode to GSOC? What disciplinary action, if any, has been taken against the two officers in question? If none has been taken, why on earth has it not been taken? It is almost one year since Maurice McCabe produced the tape that proved he was telling the truth and that the two gardaí in Mullingar had in fact attempted to set him up.
The question must also be asked as to why the Tánaiste did not refer this matter to GSOC before yesterday. Clearly the Tánaiste has questions to answer with regard to that. Perhaps the Minister could also clarify why only the Mullingar meeting was referred to GSOC and not the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy. Why is the Garda Commissioner's legal strategy not being referred to GSOC? With regard to the Mullingar meeting, will the Tánaiste confirm that GSOC will be given access to the transcripts of Maurice McCabe’s recording, which is crucial? Will GSOC actually be able to carry out a full investigation into what transpired at that Mullingar meeting? The Commissioner does not have to breach any legal code or requirement to answer the very simple questions that have been asked of her. Whether it was her own doing or not, she has been drawn into this very serious public controversy and only a full explanation will end that controversy. The statement issued yesterday, however lengthy, does not provide a full explanation. It is in both her own interest and the public interest that she provide that explanation as soon as possible.
A significant question also needs to be asked as to why this exchange was not mentioned at all in the O'Higgins report or referred to GSOC by the commission. This is a very serious allegation which has been supported by the tape produced by Sergeant McCabe. Why has that incident not been referred to GSOC, either by the commission or by the Minister? This is a major concern, and it is extraordinary that Mr. Justice O'Higgins concluded that the incident did not warrant a mention. It is very hard to understand how he could possibly have come to that conclusion. One has to wonder what else has been left out of the commission’s report. Surely the whole point of the commission was to lay out the full facts and finally establish the whole truth of the matter. Leaving a very relevant part of proceedings out of the report is completely unsatisfactory and undermines the entire value of the O'Higgins report.
Separately, it should be noted that the report from the two gardaí who interviewed Sergeant McCabe in Mullingar was apparently forwarded to a chief superintendent. Further to that, the Byrne-McGinn inquiry investigated Mr. McCabe's claims. Clearly, if the alleged McCabe admission of malice had arisen from the Mullingar meeting, it would surely have been highlighted in that report, but there was no mention of it in the Byrne-McGinn report in 2010. It is interesting to note that this report was heavily criticised in the O'Higgins report, yet there is no indication that any disciplinary action was taken in this regard - nor, strangely, is any recommended by O'Higgins.
With regard to the Garda attitude to whistleblowers, either the Garda authorities embrace whistleblowing or they do not. The commission highly commended Sergeant McCabe:
Sergeant McCabe acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns, and the commission unreservedly accepts his bona fides. Sergeant McCabe has shown courage, and performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost. For this he is due the gratitude, not only of the general public, but also of An Garda Síochána.
Yet these are only words. If there was another Garda McCabe, would he or she have any confidence at all that the culture of secrecy and closing of ranks in the Garda had changed one iota? Would he or she be assured that malpractice had been minimised or that there were consequences for those who seriously neglected their duties? Crucially, would that garda feel that he or she could draw attention to wrongdoing and not end up being excoriated and vilified? How could this be the case?
The Fianna Fáil position with regard to the O'Higgins report is curious, to say the least. Fianna Fáil has studiously dodged the central issue, and I wonder why, but that is just a by-the-way. The responsibility for dealing with this matter falls fairly and squarely on the Minister for Justice and Equality, and she must now address the many issues that arise. There is considerable disquiet and public concern about what is coming out in a drip-feed manner from side reports regarding the O'Higgins report. To date, the Government's response has been wholly inadequate.
While there are good recommendations made regarding Garda practice and so on, the O'Higgins report falls on its statements on the recommendations. It was not asked to make recommendations but it did so. It is extraordinary that the last recommendation made in the report raises more questions than it answers. It says, inter alia, "It is hoped that the closing of this inquiry will enable the gardaí in the area to put the unhappy events, the subject matter of this inquiry, behind them...".
If that is not the understatement of the year - "the unhappy events" - then I do not know what is. The report speaks about this happening a long time ago and drawing a line under it. That is the implication of that last recommendation. Crucially, it states, "Bearing the foregoing in mind [which is that it was a long time ago and the Garda wants to put the unhappy events behind it], and in the very particular circumstances pertaining, the commission considers that the institution of any disciplinary proceedings, which might conceivably arise out of its findings, would not be helpful." That is not why the commission was set up. It went beyond its remit to make recommendations when the principal recommendation was that we should draw a line under this and move on.
The Deputy needs to conclude, please.
It is not on to do that. There is considerable public concern about the issues that arise here. We will not be able to move on or restore confidence in the Garda Síochána and, crucially, we will not be able to restore any kind of confidence in the ability of the Minister for Justice and Equality-----
Please conclude, Deputy.
-----to run the justice system unless those key questions are answered.
I thank the Deputy for her co-operation. Deputy Eamon Ryan has 30 minutes.
I will only take half of that, a Cheann Comhairle, if that is okay.
That is okay.
I very much appreciate the chance to speak on the O'Higgins report, as it throws an invaluable light on the nature of our policing and judicial systems as well as our inquiries system in this State, which is something we have to take with huge seriousness. We start with the foundation principle as set out by the first Garda Commissioner, Mr. Michael Staines, which many Deputies have reflected on in their contributions, which is that a police force "will succeed not by force of arms or numbers but on their moral authority as servants of the people".
The roots of the word "sergeant" come from "to serve" and the one clear message out of this is that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has lived up to that ideal and aspiration. As a sergeant, he has come out of this report and process with great honour and respect. Yes, Mr. Justice O'Higgins states on occasion that perhaps he talked up some aspects of what happened but, in truth and consistently, he is seen as someone who is seeking the truth and to enhance the moral authority of the Garda and as someone who is willing to serve as a public servant.
My personal sense of dealing with the Garda - my assessment of our police force - is a positive one. I think most people in Ireland have a similar experience and trust their local guard. I grew up as a campaigner organising protests in this city. Routinely, I would go down to the sergeants in Pearse Street and in an informal and flexible way would tell the guards what we were thinking of doing. It was disruptive, difficult and not easy, but they were flexible and accommodating and they built up trust by the way in which they policed the city centre. That was my experience.
I also had an unfortunate experience, having spent a fair bit of time in the District Courts for various reasons watching our criminal justice system in action. Anyone who is close to that system would acknowledge that, unfortunately and, it is sad to say, undermining the moral authority of our system, our guards, fairly routinely in those courts, the lowest courts where the attention and gaze is not focused, do not always tell the truth. They cut corners and act in a way which undermines their moral authority and makes the case worse in the long run.
One only has to go outside the gates of this House. I am sure most Deputies and people involved in this House at various stages in the past five or ten years saw various forms of protest which were policed in different ways. Often the nature of the policing is down to stuff that is not tangible but which makes a world of difference. We see some guards in what is admittedly and undoubtedly a stressful and difficult situation react to that situation in a way that makes it worse and undermines their moral authority by the aggressive nature in how they respond. We see other guards, however, in the exact same circumstances who, simply in the way they stand, hold the line and behave, enhance authority and, to my mind, reduce the difficulties and the public disorder which they are there to police and to try to protect against.
For every failing of the guards, we also see guards going to incredible lengths. Take, for example, the Graham Dwyer case and Garda James O'Donoghue. This is not to be found in a rule book. We cannot easily say exactly what one should and should not do according to a rule book. What drove him to go back to the reservoir in Roundwood? He thought, "The first trawl we did, the water was not quite visible; I am going to get into the mud and spend my time up to my knees sifting through the mud." This was because he thought there was a wild, outside possibility that there might be something else there. He found a Dunnes Stores loyalty card with a name on it and a phone, which were then used as evidence in that murder trial. I think this restored faith, because this was an example of a guard going beyond the call of any duty to show what can happen when policing is done in that sort of way, as did a number of his colleagues in the same case. They dealt with and built up evidence through their dedication. This seems to me to be the same attitude as that of Sergeant Maurice McCabe, which was to be willing to go beyond what anyone would expect. No one would have expected Sergeant McCabe to have shown that same persistence, that is, the same digging into the mud of what was not working in his own county and station. That is what we have seen here in the way that he developed and sought to improve the police service of which he was a part.
Before talking briefly about the nature of what we have learned about policing in this report, it is important to recognise that there is a bigger question and issue about the nature of our investigations in the State itself. Much of this revolves around how we treat and manage evidence. I notice that Mr. Justice O'Higgins states that in his inquiry he sought to follow the path of constitutional and natural justice. It is important we do that. As I understand it, a case is coming before one of our courts where a previous tribunal, the Mahon tribunal, was fatally and fundamentally undermined because of the non-sharing of evidence with people who were accused. It has seen that incredibly expensive and drawn-out process completely undermined. The basic rules of how one treats evidence in a way that meets the requirements of constitutional and natural justice were not followed. We are not good in how we do inquiries; we have not found the secret to success yet.
I listened to the passionate and articulate contributions of Deputies Wallace and Daly in this House yesterday. Again, we saw how they were treated. The problems of the former Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter, and his need to resign lay in his using of evidence the guards had found in terms of a misdemeanour in the use of a mobile phone, which was a completely inappropriate use of Garda evidence and which should and inevitably did lead to the consequence that his authority as Minister for Justice and Equality was completely undermined. It said something about the guards that it was possible for that sort of evidence to be used in that way. It undermines the authority of the guards and how evidence is used. Likewise, it can also be said of how Deputy Daly was treated in terms of the false accusation and case against her which was ultimately dismissed.
We have a problem ourselves in this House. I was removed, or away, for the past five years. However, in terms of how the Committee of Public Accounts worked in collecting evidence and managing our inquiry, we have not got it right. We know ourselves that sometimes in the committee room, when someone is presenting, it can turn into a court-like theatre and the instinct can be really to hammer the person and show how brilliant one is as a parliamentarian by digging deep. However, we also have questions to answer in how we manage that process. It is not as if we are beyond reproach in terms of how investigation works.
We now have this report from the commission of inquiry and again we are faced with real questions about how evidence in this case has been presented and leaked and whether it was, as claimed by Mr. Justice O'Higgins, who was seeking it, a non-adversarial and more inquisitorial approach. Was that really the case? What was it the Garda were seemingly clearly doing in trying to undermine Sergeant McCabe by alleging that in the original complaints in Mullingar in August 2008 that he had certain motives?
Whether we call that malice or questioning integrity, or whatever words we use, they were seemingly trying to undermine the one person who was digging in the mud to find the truth and trying to set higher standards within the Garda Síochána.
The way evidence was managed in this case is important. It is interesting to note one of the first things Mr. Justice O'Higgins stated in the report. It is on page 11. He states: "the compliance with the obligation of making discovery by the gardaí was unsatisfactory" and then goes on to say, "A large volume of documents were not provided in a timely fashion". He further states: "However, the manner in which such cooperation manifested itself was, on occasion, quite inadequate – the commission expected better from An Garda Síochána." There are real questions to answer. Why was that the case in an inquiry all about the way evidence is presented and managed? It is remarkable that the report had to start with that admission.
The inquiry is amazing in the way it brings us back into daily life in our country. A person could be on a bus at 2 a.m. coming back from a disco or outside a disco at 3 a.m. It speaks to the dramatic and sometimes mundane reality of what policing is like. It is difficult. It cannot be easy when a garda arrives at a fight at which someone is being hit and people are drunk and do not know what is happening. That is not easy. It is not easy to know the right thing to do. I imagine policing is sometimes a subtle thing. Policing is a tough job. We do not want to end up with a police force that is all about writing everything down and following the rule book to the nth degree if it means those responsible cannot get anything done. Sometimes for a garda, it is a question of a walking out into a lake up to his knees in mud and having to sift through it, not because it is part of the procedure he must follow but because he is following an instinct. I imagine when a garda arrives late at night to a difficult situation and there are all manner of personal things at play, the way he dispels the violence, calms things down and sorts it out is remarkable.
We must give our gardaí the flexibility to use their judgment. However, we also need them to be really top-notch. The report details a litany of occasions on which evidence was not followed up or not collected and statements were not pursued. There was an underlying truth in what Garda McCabe was saying - in other words, our police force needs to be better. This is not the first time we have heard it. We found that out from the Morris and Smithwick tribunals. There have been consistent messages around that issue. The report is about the nature of policing throughout the State every day. The Department and An Garda Síochána should forensically examine this report to see how to encourage a culture that makes it better.
I have a slight concern. Part of the problem resides in the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department also has a responsibility. One could pick many instances in which the Department was not fast, open or transparent in processing information. I have in mind the letter to the former Minister, Mr. Shatter, that never reached him. Faster action would have dispelled one of the controversies of recent years. Anyway, there seems to be a cultural difficulty. Ultimately, the Department has to take responsibility for this. A series of tribunals have questioned the nature of the Garda, its investigation system, how it deals with abuse and how we have ended up in this fix, which is deeply damaging to the reputation of An Garda Síochána as well as our sense of ourselves and the State we live in.
The Minister should look within her own Department and not only to the Garda Commissioner. There are wider considerations, to which Deputy Shortall adverted before me. Another thing that comes out of the day-to-day assessment is a gaze on the wider judicial system. This is an indication of how important the report is. It opens up questions about our public service, the Department, the Government and our policing and court systems. We must ensure we use this report in a way in which, seemingly, we have not used previous reports in order to change the basic structures of our policing and judicial systems. If we do not, this will be a missed opportunity.
I look forward to hearing the outcome of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission inquiry into what happened in respect of what can only be described as the deliberate undermining of Sergeant McCabe. It is of the utmost importance that the GSOC inquiry is treated with real urgency and candour. It is one of the key elements that remain to be resolved, although it is not the only one. Fundamental reform of our system is required. It is not that our police or gardaí are bad - we know that. However, the culture is not serving the Garda or our people, and that needs to change.
Seo í an tuarascáil. Tá sí léite agam cé nach bhfuil sé éasca í a léamh, ach tá sin tuillte ag na híobartaigh, muintir na tíre agus go háirithe An Garda Síochána mar tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach dúinn. Ní féidir sochaí shibhialta a bheith againn gan mhuinín a bheith againn as An Garda Síochána. I have the report before me. Apart from the appendices, it runs to 369 pages. I have taken the trouble to read it, every line and page of it. If the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Commissioner had read it - there is still time - they might have given different statements. The Minister referred to some investigations being defective. If she had read the report, she would have found out that Mr. Justice O'Higgins said every investigation that he looked at was defective. I will come back to the Commissioner's statement about her difficulty in communicating instructions. I do not accept that there could be any difficulty, but I will come back to that.
Let us place this report in context. We have had the Morris tribunal, as referred to already by Deputy Ryan. It found corruption and neglect. Not long ago, Mr. Justice Morris attributed corruption and neglect to a number of gardaí in Donegal. At a conservative estimate, that tribunal of inquiry cost over €100 million, including the legal costs and the cost of compensating victims significantly. In addition to the two main victims, some 55 further civil actions have arisen. The taxpayer quite rightly picked up the tab for the victims in that case. Then we had the Smithwick tribunal, which reported in December 2013. It clearly found collusion between the Garda Síochána and the IRA.
On top of that, GSOC has been involved in this inquiry and other investigations. As far back as 2013, GSOC expressed the most serious concern that the recommendations of Mr. Justice Morris had not been implemented and that the culture was not conducive to implementing those recommendations. All of this is against the background of other investigations, although I will not use my time to go into those investigations.
Strangely, in the preface and acknowledgements of the report, Mr. Justice O'Higgins makes a most serious statement. This has already been referred to by Deputy Ryan. On page 11, Mr. Justice O'Higgins stated:
The commission is pleased to acknowledge the cooperation it received from all persons. However, the compliance with the obligation of making discovery by the gardaí was unsatisfactory.
This was in 2015, notwithstanding all the history of investigations. He went on to state:
A large volume of documents were not provided in a timely fashion, and as late as 12th October 2015, the commission was informed that many documents had not been discovered. In circumstances where these documents were readily available in Bailieboro garda station - the epicentre of this investigation - the failure to disclose them at the outset was disappointing and difficult to understand.
He went on to say that the late discovery of these documents by the gardaí was unhelpful and frustrating and that the commission would have expected better from An Garda Síochána. In other words, there was non-co-operation in 2015.
Before I go any further into the body of the report, I wish to note that as a councillor my experience has been that the people want community policing. They want a good relationship with the Garda and they want gardaí on the ground. Without this, we cannot have a civilised society. You know, Acting Chairman, of the importance of this service and how the lack of policing has led to the terrible situation in inner-city Dublin.
The representatives of that community still want the gardaí. Sergeant McCabe is an exemplary role model for the good gardaí on the ground because he persisted against all the odds, against the bullying, harassment, "Maurice the rat", and disciplinary proceedings, which the commission notes as extraordinary. Maurice McCabe was the only person named in Chapter 11 who was going to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings in the context of major sexual abuse by Fr. Molloy of a 14 year old boy. These incidents arose in 2007 and 2008 at a time when the Government of the day had no problem deploying gardaí to Mayo to police on behalf of Shell, a multinational, for-profit company, against the people. I was there and witnessed it. I have the photographs. I was photographed by gardaí and I photographed them as we stood in solidarity with the people and millions of euro of taxpayers’ money was spent on policing. At the same time Bailieboro Garda station was not fit for purpose. The Commission visited and confirmed that it was not fit for purpose and not "conducive" to good policing. That was during the Celtic tiger and since, and now, although the economy has recovered, it remains so.
In his introduction in chapter 1, Mr. Justice O’Higgins sets out what is involved and refers to various investigations, including the Morris tribunal. In 2006, the Morris tribunal identified the importance of a garda being able “to speak in confidence with a designated officer in garda headquarters should they have concerns about misconduct”. Deputies Daly and Wallace spoke yesterday of their concerns about the ongoing difficulties in the midlands in respect of whistleblowers who do not feel protected. This is 2016 and it was a concern of the Morris tribunal in 2006.
In chapter 2, an approach to the inquiry, Mr. Justice O'Higgins points out that it lasted for 34 days, sitting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. I congratulate those who worked solidly during that time for the common good. A total of 97 witnesses were called. He is at pains to say that this was not an adversarial system but an inquisitorial one to bring out the evidence as best as possible. The Commissioner said she was under a duty to instruct that there would be more or less vigorous cross-examination in respect of Sergeant McCabe’s credibility. I do not accept at all that she cannot tell us what directions were given.
In chapter 3 Sergeant McCabe is described as:
. . . the central figure in this commission of investigation. He is a dedicated and committed member of An Garda Síochána. He has brought to public attention certain investigations where the public was not well served. He has also highlighted certain legitimate concerns about procedures and practices in place at Bailieboro garda station. [I will continue to read because of the leaks already highlighted by Deputies and the damage to his reputation. It is important to balance that.] The events leading up to and including this commission of investigation have been extremely stressful for him and for his family over a long period of time. In particular, he considered that he was being wrongly blamed for certain errors in the investigation of the Fr. Michael Molloy case, and he was subjected to disciplinary proceedings for the first time in a long career. [It is acknowledged later on that there was no foundation to any disciplinary proceedings.] This was especially upsetting for him because he had no part in that investigation. He also had reason to believe that he was being “set up” and wrongly implicated in relation to important aspects of the Jerry McGrath investigation.
This was particularly upsetting for him because Mr. McGrath went on to murder a woman on 7 and 8 December 2007. The judge did say that he was “prone to exaggeration” or overstated matters but failed to put that in context. That description arises from the fact that on occasion Sergeant McCabe, despite his best effort, was unaware that perhaps a superintendent, like Clancy, was also taking action. Those slightly negative comments should have been put in the context of his persistence against all the odds in bringing matters of public concern to our attention at great cost to himself. This goes back to the Commissioner and the Minister. On page 24, Mr. Justice O’Higgins states: “Some people, wrongly and unfairly, cast aspersions on Sergeant McCabe’s motives; others were ambivalent about them.” Who were these people? Why are they not identified? Were they the two gardaí who are now the subject of the GSOC inquiry? We do not know. Do they include the legal team on behalf of the Commissioner? The judge goes on: "Sergeant McCabe acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns, and the commission unreservedly accepts his bona fides. Sergeant McCabe has shown courage, and performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost. For this he is due the gratitude, not only of the general public, but also of An Garda Síochána... [He] is a man of integrity, whom the public can trust in the exercise of his duties.” Sergeant McCabe deserves that.
The judge continues: “In the circumstances outlined [...] the commission considers that there was a corporate closing of ranks. The commission does not consider that this was done consciously or deliberately. There was no question of bad faith.” This is interesting. The Byrne-McGinn inquiry gave a five page summary to Sergeant McCabe. The commission acknowledges that the “investigation did nothing to instil confidence in him that his concerns had been properly addressed”. He says that Byrne and McGinn upheld quite a substantial number of his complaints although that was not fully communicated to him as far as I can make out.
The chapters dealing with the various incidents find that all the investigations were defective and had serious flaws. It behoves the Minister and the Commissioner to read this and not to try to belittle it by saying “some”. They should, having read the report, say how they will deal with this in a comprehensive manner that we can trust. We deserve that but the victims deserve it more.
In respect of chapter 4 and the Kingscourt bus incident, the bus driver contacted Bailieboro Garda station to complain about the behaviour of several individuals. It was treated very lightly. The commission concludes: “Ms. Browne underwent a harrowing experience and was entitled to have the matter dealt with competently and professionally by the gardaí. Unfortunately, as is evident from the findings of the commission [...] her legitimate expectations in this regard were not met." The investigation of the incident by Superintendent Heller “was not particularly thorough”. That was followed by an investigation by Byrne and McGinn and significantly a core document was not made available to them. That was the detailed statement of Ms Browne who said she was terrified.
Deputy Coppinger touched on this matter yesterday when she referred to gender violence. I agree with her, and the case jumped out at me. This incident and a subsequent incident involving Ms Lynch and another woman who was screaming on a bus were all dealt with in a very summary and non-serious manner by the Garda. It is something to which the Garda and the Commissioner need to return. The commission notes that the garda in question demonstrated little enthusiasm about pursuing the matter and discouraged Ms Browne from proceeding. The PULSE entry noted that the statement of complaint was withdrawn and the parties resolved the issue amongst themselves. There was an offer of an apology and a €150 dinner voucher, which the victim did not accept. This is an incident in which a woman who had vast experience of driving a bus and taxi in Dublin was terrified. The investigation of the incident was very poor.
Chapter 5 deals with an assault at the Lakeside Manor Hotel. A man was assaulted. His facial injuries were not insignificant and there was a positive possibility that he had lost consciousness. A garda told the accused there was CCTV footage of the accused striking the injured party. No such footage existed. The investigation was characterised by delay, and Sergeant McCabe's complaints were not adequately addressed in the subsequent Byrne-McGinn report.
Chapter 6 deals with two incidents involving Jerry McGrath, who is currently in prison for committing murder. Ms Lynch, a taxi driver in Kells, suffered a serious assault. Instead of being charged with a section 3 assault, Jerry McGrath was charged with a section 2 minor offence. When the case came before him, the judge described it as the worst aggravated assault he had ever dealt with, according to the note of the inspector who was present at the court case. The report states that Ms Lynch suffered a terrible ordeal and, but for her considerable courage and quite remarkable presence of mind, the consequences might have been considerably worse. It goes on to state that she dealt with her ordeal in a quite remarkable manner and it was regrettable that in those circumstances she was not given the opportunity to address the court. The deficiencies in the Virginia investigation are outlined in detail.
The separate incident involving Mr. McGrath, who is currently in prison, was his entry into a house in Tipperary as a trespasser. Quite incredibly, a minor assault was noted. He took a young child downstairs with his hand over her mouth, and was, in effect, abducting her from her home. He was on bail when he did that and was again granted bail afterwards. For a previous victim who had been assaulted, it was noted as a minor assault. The report's conclusion is that Mary Lynch was the victim of a savage assault and only escaped far more serious injury through her bravery and initiative. The investigation into the offence was characterised by delay and a lack of effective supervision of the investigating member. Ms Roche-Kelly was not well served by the fact that a considerable period of time elapsed in deciding who should investigate the complaint. This is something that is repeated in the report - namely, the failure to identify a person, garda or sergeant in charge.
Chapter 7 deals with an incident in a restaurant. A garda told an injured party that a complaint had gone to the DPP, but that was incorrect. Quite shockingly, there is criticism of Sergeant McCabe by the Garda and the Byrne-McGinn report which was not upheld in any way. There was a question, even then, of disciplining Sergeant McCabe. Luckily, that did not happen at that point.
Chapter 8 deals with the assault of a 17 year old girl. There was no prosecution and no medical examination took place. The interview is described as dismal and there were contradictions between various gardaí as to whether it was a sexual or non-sexual assault. Reading it as a woman and a mother, I feel there were certainly grounds to consider it a sexual assault. I again refer to the points made by Deputy Coppinger in regard to the handling of violence against women.
Chapter 9 deals with dangerous driving. On 27 December 2007, three people were hit by a speeding car. Luckily, they received only minor injuries. The investigation, the commission states, never recovered from the fundamental failure of who was investigating it. Quite incredibly, disciplinary proceedings against Sergeant McCabe in this investigation were contemplated and Mr. Justice O'Higgins said if they had gone ahead they would have been entirely misconceived and unjustified.
Chapter 10 deals with an assault at Crossan's public house. A victim was assaulted and brought to hospital with a minor head injury. The victim made a statement which was subsequently withdrawn. Again, the Byrne-McGinn report, according to the commission, suggests that the complaints made by Sergeant McCabe were largely unfounded, when in fact Mr. Justice O'Higgins said the complaints were mainly justified. The commissioner was left with the impression that there was a reluctance to deal with the complaint of Sergeant McCabe on its merits. The statement of withdrawal was a matter of central importance in the investigation. The fact that it was the main reason for the charge and proceedings is not stated in the Byrne-McGinn report. It is not surprising that Sergeant McCabe was sceptical of the findings of the Byrne-McGinn report on this incident. In regard to trust, Mr. Justice O'Higgins said that unfortunately in this instance the trust of the victim and her husband in the Garda was not justified.
Chapter 11 deals with the Fr. Michael Molloy investigation and a computer which remains missing. On 11 September 2007, a man made a complaint that his son had been sexually abused by Fr. Michael Molloy. On 22 July 2009, Fr. Molloy pleaded guilty to one count of defilement of a child under the age of 15 years, one count of defilement of a child under the age of 17 years and one count of possession of child pornography. The conclusion of the commission is that the investigation was seriously flawed because of the matters set out in detail in the report. The commission was unable to ascertain what happened to the computer. It is significant that the report states that it is difficult to understand why Sergeant McCabe was the only person subjected to disciplinary proceedings with regard to the missing computer. These are the incidences to which the Minister refers as "some". The Commissioner has not referred to those instances in any way whatsoever.
In regard to the final two paragraphs of the report, the former Minister, Alan Shatter, deserves unreservedly to have his name vindicated because of his quick response when the complaint was made to him. The allegations of fraud regarding some of the senior members were not upheld, but the vast majority of Sergeant McCabe's complaints were. They may not have fallen under the category of corruption, but they certainly fell under categories such as neglect of duty. There were basic failures, such as the failure to hold identity parades, take dated statements or follow up on matters, the charging of people with the wrong offences, the minimising of assaults and so on. Perhaps different members of the public would categorise those failures in a different manner; some may call them corruption. There are certainly serious concerns that have to be investigated.
In terms of police conduct, I find it difficult to understand the statement by Mr. Justice O'Higgins that Bailieborough Garda station did not have an impact on policing and that the gardaí acted in a personal capacity. It seems to me that one cannot tell this story without taking into account the Garda station and the state in which it was left in the middle of the financial crisis.
We learn from the report that “Bailieboro Garda station was built around 1870 as a barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary.” We are told, “A flat-roofed single storey extension was built in or around 1970.” In addition, “In 2007, a two-floor pre-fabricated building was constructed in the station yard in an effort to improve conditions. In 2008, work was done to the interior of the building”. Judge O’Higgins said there was general agreement that Bailieborough Garda station was not fit for purpose. The Judge said: “It is not necessary to document all the defects or inadequacies in the garda station, which was in a run down and unfit condition." However, he provided a list of the more notable defects, which I will not outline in full as they amount to a page and a bit. They include unsuitable reception facilities to process arrested persons, the lack of a suitable space to allow gardaí to conduct an identification parade, inadequate clerical officer work space, an unsuitable blood-urine doctor’s room to process suspected excess alcohol cases and the fact that sewage backup can occur which causes a foul odour in the station.
They were the conditions under which we let the Garda Síochána work. To quote Judge O’Higgins, “The conditions in Bailieboro garda station were deplorable, and were not conducive to either good policing or good morale.”
The report went outside its remit in terms of its recommendations and like Deputy Shortall I find the final bullet point from the judge extraordinary. He said:
Bearing the foregoing in mind, and in the very particular circumstances pertaining, the commission considers that the institution of any disciplinary proceedings, which might conceivably arise out of its findings, would not be helpful.
I find that an extraordinary conclusion. There have been so many hearings and investigations that I understand why we would be reluctant to undertake any more investigations. We have had one investigation after another, some better than others and some more defective. We cannot forget that today there are members of the Garda who are petrified or out on sick leave because of the way they are being treated, despite all the legislation that has been introduced. There has been no sea change among certain members of the Garda Síochána. After reading all of the report I must say I cannot put the blame on gardaí in the junior ranks. They must take personal responsibility for their failure and learn from them but the focus must be on the superintendents, chief superintendents, assistant commissioners and Commissioner. The commission notes there was a rota of senior members going to Bailieborough Garda station and then leaving. The maximum time they spent there was 18 months, which does not allow for stability, proper supervision or provide a system where gardaí feel they are being nurtured, mistakes can be openly acknowledged, brought to the attention of superior officers and addressed.
I have had the time and privilege to reflect on the matter from the time it was first mentioned by the Opposition parties in the Dáil, which forced the Minister and the Commissioner to examine the issue. Having taken the time to read the report I am most unhappy with the Minister’s statement and that of the Commissioner. I do not feel they have read the report. Neither do I feel they have appreciated what Sergeant McCabe and other gardaí have gone through when they persisted in bringing the defects to the attention of more senior gardaí. It is important that we get to a stage where we acknowledge that and we work with the Garda Síochána. In a sense, I understand what Judge O’Higgins said, in that the Garda has “worked under the shadow of those events” for some time. It is time to move on, but one cannot move on without learning from mistakes. Judge O’Higgins points out repeatedly that one must learn from mistakes so, in a sense i nGaeilge, tá abairt amháin ag teacht salach ar abairt eile - one side is contradicting another.
I would be much happier if the Commissioner and the Minister had made a more open statement and expressed some outrage or horror that Sergeant McCabe and his family had to go through all of this, and the other gardaí who are going through it, notwithstanding the Morris, Smithwick and Barr tribunals, the latter to a lesser extent, and to say that was unacceptable. In addition, GSOC also repeatedly pointed out that the Garda has not come on board. When I say the Garda I refer to Garda management.
The Commissioner is hiding behind the shield of her instructions. There is no obstacle to her telling us what instructions she gave to her legal team. The report was leaked on a drip-by-drip basis to reduce the standing of Sergeant McCabe in our eyes. The Commissioner has a duty to come in and tell us what instructions she gave.
Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick is sharing with the Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this opportunity to participate in the debate on the report of the O'Higgins commission. I thank Mr. Justice O'Higgins, a highly distinguished retired High Court judge, for his comprehensive report. The report is of the highest standard and clear in its findings. The Government has accepted the report and has undertaken to act on it.
The O'Higgins commission of investigation was established to investigate and report on certain matters in the Cavan-Monaghan division of the Garda Síochána. It arose as a result of the May 2014 report from Sean Guerin to An Taoiseach concerning allegations made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe. As a result of that report the Government accepted that a commission of investigation was in the public interest so as to ensure that the public continue to have confidence in both the Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system.
While it is clear that the report found evidence of human error by members of the Garda in relation to various incidents included in the commission's terms of reference, it also clear that no evidence of Garda corruption was found. However, a number of failings were identified and included individual gardaí who failed to discharge properly their investigating functions; delays in undertaking investigations; poor note taking; and failure to interview key witnesses and to register aspects of certain incidents properly on the PULSE system.
In relation to Sergeant McCabe it must be noted that the report concluded that he was a man of integrity and as the Tánaiste has stated, "performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost". I also agree with the Tánaiste’s statement in the House yesterday that Sergeant McCabe is due the gratitude not only of the general public but also of An Garda Síochána and this House.
The report went on to say it found that certain allegations of corruption in relation to senior officers were untrue. With regards to former Garda Commissioner Callinan the report clearly states that there was absolutely no evidence to support any allegation of corruption against him.
The former justice Minister, Alan Shatter, was also found to have acted properly at all times in handling the issues that came before him. Despite all of that, it is clear that victims of crime were failed by An Garda Síochána. That is totally unacceptable and we must ensure that it does not happen in the future.
As the Tánaiste indicated, she met with Mary and George Lynch and was inspired by the bravery shown by Mary, not only on the night of that dreadful attack but also since then. I put on record my full support and admiration for Mary. She was failed by the system and it is incumbent on us as legislators to make sure that is not repeated in the future.
While it is clear the system has failed on this occasion it is important to note that a number of reforms have taken place since then which include the establishment of a new independent Policing Authority to oversee the performance of the Garda in relation to its functions. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 was also introduced to give enhanced protection to whistleblowers. The Freedom of Information Act was also extended to include An Garda Síochána. In 2014 the Garda Inspectorate published a comprehensive report on crime investigation and as the Tánaiste has already stated, significant work is under way to continue to implement its recommendations.
With regard to the new programme for Government, we have committed to spend more than €205 million on new technology and ICT which will equip the Garda to combat modern crime. In my constituency of Louth I have attended many meetings with the local policing forums and it is very pleasing to hear that crime rates have decreased dramatically in the area.
Unfortunately, one reason for the increased resources being deployed to Dundalk and its surrounding areas was the callous murders of Garda Adrian Donohue and Garda Tony Golden. These callous murders, for which the murderers still are at large, demonstrate the ultimate price some members of the Garda pay in their service of the State.
To conclude, I have heard many Deputies criticise the Garda, the Government and the commission but the report is of the highest standard and is clear in its findings. I fully accept the report and am happy the Government has undertaken to act on its findings. Members must not forget who are the real victims of these failings, namely, brave people like Mary Lynch. I urge Deputies not to try to play political games with the commission's findings but instead to engage in constructive dialogue with all sides of the House to ensure the failings identified in the report are not allowed to be repeated in the future.
At the outset, I thank Mr. Justice O'Higgins and his staff for their work and I congratulate him on the report. He took on a difficult and conjugated task and worked flat out to uncover the facts and to report them honestly and fairly in a report that addresses the issues and obviously makes many recommendations.
In recent weeks, the focus in the media has been on background issues regarding what different legal counsel said or did not say and, in the main, the O'Higgins report has been ignored and overlooked, which is an awful pity. Moreover, the report's findings have been lost in the media and the political debate. This is disappointing because the entire reason for establishing the commission of investigation was to investigate the serious allegations made concerning An Garda Síochána. The report found evidence of human error by members of the Garda in a number of incidents but found no evidence of Garda corruption. The report found that in some instances, the investigative functions of the Garda were not discharged properly and there were unacceptable delays, poor note-taking, failure to interview key witnesses and incorrect registry of incidents on the PULSE system. The report is extremely critical of the manner in which victims were treated and this is clear and stark in the failings that were addressed there.
Consequently, the findings of the report obviously are disappointing for all those who respect the work of the Garda and who place their faith in the men and women who commit their lives and - as is evident with regard to recent events - in many cases risk their lives to serve the community, the country and its citizens. I have no doubt but that the people who are most disappointed in the findings of the report are members of An Garda Síochána themselves. It is important that Members consider the report, learn from it and implement its findings in order to reinstate and re-instill the pride people have in the force. While the report finds that some issues raised by Sergeant Maurice McCabe did not turn out to be valid, it also states his evidence was truthful. Sergeant McCabe is a very brave member of An Garda Síochána. He saw things he believed to be wrong within the police force of which he is a member and took steps to highlight and resolve them. The report and its findings would not be available today and the commission would not have been established without him. The goodwill that will flow from taking steps to address the problems identified in the report is the legacy of Sergeant McCabe's brave stand.
The report found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, or former Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter, and stated they both behaved appropriately in their handling of Sergeant McCabe's complaints. It is important to make this point in this Chamber as all too often Members live in a world with social media and the 24-hour news cycle where allegations are made by people in the public domain that are unfounded but by the time the facts are known, the legend of the story has eclipsed the truth of the evidence and the media attention has moved on. It is important to note in particular those findings in the report and I wish my colleague, former Minister Alan Shatter, and the former Commissioner, Martin Callinan, well in their futures.
In the future, Members must consider what Mr. Justice O'Higgins has recommended in his report to address the failings that have been identified. Among his recommendations are the clear need for guidance in the duties of Garda sergeants, the introduction of a system of performance management and better management of cases that are being investigated. I believe Members of the current Dáil, including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Government, the Policing Authority and, most importantly, every single member of An Garda Síochána, including Commissioner O'Sullivan and Sergeant McCabe, wish to see the recommendations of the O'Higgins report implemented and the current programme of reform in the Garda continue to its natural end. The people always have taken pride in the men and women who put on the uniform of An Garda Síochána every day. That pride is built on trust. The findings of the O'Higgins report highlight the failings in the current system but also give Members the tools to fix them, which now must be their priority.
The commission of investigation was established to look into allegations of malpractice in An Garda Síochána in the Bailieboro district and included an investigation into the manner in which the complaints of Sergeant McCabe were dealt with by An Garda Síochána. I welcome the report and thank Mr. Justice O'Higgins for his work in compiling this report and investigating the matter. It is important to note that in his report, Mr. Justice O'Higgins states:
It would be quite wrong to regard the investigations examined and criticised by the commission as being indicative of the general quality of investigations in the Bailieboro district. To do so would be most unfair to the gardaí in that district, who have worked under the shadow of allegations for many years. ... Although this report is critical of individual gardaí in specific investigations, it would be unfair to regard those criticisms as applicable to the quality of their work in general, or to consider the actions criticised as typical of their performance.
It is important to make this point because when matters get heated and people are in a difficult situation, they can often lose that objectivity and, for want of a better phrase, tar everybody with the same brush. This is not a witch hunt and in times of crises and when things become difficult, it is important to remain cool and objective and to keep a clear head in order to come to a right and just conclusion. It is important to note there are a number of good gardaí in that station who have done fantastic work and I accept they must have been in an extremely difficult position in recent years.
There are, however, serious concerns surrounding the findings of this report and I believe this is accepted by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister. Members have much work to do to deal with the findings of the report and to implement its recommendations to restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána, which understandably has been rocked. Some of the matters investigated make for difficult reading and there is no doubt but that the victims involved in those cases were failed by those who were supposed to protect them in vulnerable situations. I can only state that my heart goes out to the victims and their families and Deputy Connolly articulated this point well in respect of the issues dealt with. I also echo Deputy Connolly's unhappiness with the statements released by the Commissioner and the Minister in this regard. I also would have liked to have seen more empathy in those statements and a greater understanding of the difficulties those individuals, victims and families have been through.
I have major concerns about the manner in which Sergeant Maurice McCabe was treated and I acknowledge this point has been echoed by many colleagues in this Chamber. There is no doubt in my mind but that there was a pattern of undermining him and seeking to damage his good character. He has shown considerable resilience in seeking out the truth and doing the right thing at a huge cost to himself. Were I a lower-ranking garda today who had watched what was done to Sergeant McCabe, I wonder whether I would have the courage to come forward and report malpractice or wrongdoing within the ranks. It would be a huge request to make of any young garda and as ordinary gardaí undoubtedly do not feel confident they would be protected in such circumstances, this is a serious matter with which Members must get to grips. The protection of whistleblowers and repair of the damage done in this respect must be a top priority for the Garda Commissioner and the Minister, as I believe it will take years to fix the damage this has done.
I accept the difficult position in which the Minister, the Commissioner, counsel and those involved in the commission have been in this regard but it also is quite a serious matter that confidential transcripts from the commission of inquiry were leaked in sections. Who leaked these extracts? We do not know. What was their motivation? We do not know and can only guess. It was selective and targeted leaking that had the effect of highlighting certain aspects of the inquiry that otherwise may have been missed in the 350-odd pages of the report and people can draw their own conclusions on this matter in respect of who might have leaked those sections and why they might have done this. Rightly or wrongly, the commission was set up in such a way as to make its investigation confidential and perhaps Members should examine the merits of this for future commissions of inquiry. However, the witnesses involved in this commission of inquiry had a legitimate expectation that those transcripts would not get into the public domain and Members certainly must investigate how and why that happened.
Having said that, however, we must live in the real world. Those extracts, whether we like it or not, made it into the public domain and the public have made judgments based on that piecemeal information. I appreciate that it was a difficult situation for the Minister and the Commissioner to deal with, but I do not think it was dealt with properly or adequately. It was open to the Commissioner to clarify these matters if she so wished.
Likewise, the suggestion that information that everybody outside this House is discussing cannot be commented on by the relevant Minster is, quite frankly, absurd. The issue surrounding the Commissioner's instructions to her legal team has correctly been the subject of much public concern and scrutiny. In recent weeks, it has dominated the debate on this issue.
This investigation goes to the core of policing in our country. Public confidence in An Garda Síochána and its work has been rocked, as has public confidence in the Commissioner and the Minister. People are looking on and they want clarification on certain issues. I am not the first Deputy to have raised this.
If we look at the transcript extracts to which we have access, particularly those dealing with the Commissioner's instructions to her counsel, there are clearly questions to be asked and answered in this regard. I will quote some of those extracts. Mr. Smyth, counsel for the Commissioner stated: "My instructions are to challenge the integrity certainly of Sgt. McCabe and his motivation." When pushed further, he said: "His motivation and his credibility in mounting these allegations of corruption and malpractice." Mr. Justice O'Higgins seeks to clarify and asks: "In other words, that he made these allegations not in good faith but because he was motivated by malice or some such motive and that impinges on his credibility? If those are your instructions from the Commissioner, so be it." Mr. Smyth replied: "So be it. That is the position, judge." Mr. Justice O'Higgins further asks: "Those are your instructions from the Commissioner?" Smyth replies: "Those are my instructions, judge". He further states: "I mean, this isn't something I am pulling out of the sky".
I appreciate, as the Minister has stated in this House, that those extracts could potentially be taken out of context. We do not have access to the preceding paragraphs, nor do we know what came after. We do not know in what order these transcripts came. However, since we do not have the full transcripts, we can only operate on the basis of the information we currently have. On balance, I think the extracts give a clear picture of the Commissioner's instructions to her counsel and there appears to be no ambiguity in terms of the Commissioner's instructions. It was a clear attack on Maurice McCabe's integrity and his motivations in suggesting that there was malpractice in the Garda Síochána. There was certainly an attempt to damage his credibility in this regard.
How does one reconcile that with the Commissioner's public comments? There is an acceptance that publicly she was very supportive of Sergeant McCabe. There appears to be a conflict between what the Commissioner was saying publicly about Sergeant McCabe and what she was instructing her legal team to do in the commission. On numerous occasions she has been asked by Deputies to clarify this, but she has failed to do so. It is an extremely serious matter.
The Commissioner's statement of 25 May seeks to deal with this question. She stated: "In relation to communications with the legal team representing An Garda Síochána, it is important in terms of receiving advice and giving instructions that privilege in such communications is protected so as not to adversely impact on the workings of An Garda Síochána and its entitlement to seek and obtain legal advice on a confidential basis in this instance and in the future." I agree with her on that point, which I accept, but we must live in the real world. The extracts suggest that she was saying one thing privately and something very different publicly. We must deal with what is in the public domain because the public are already discussing it.
The Commissioner further stated:
These constraints, which reflect important principles of law, restrict my capacity to address the issues which have been raised in relation to the approach taken by An Garda Síochána before the O'Higgins Commission. However, I can confirm that An Garda Síochána's legal team was not at any stage instructed to impugn the integrity of Sgt Maurice McCabe or to make a case that he was acting maliciously.
How on earth can one reconcile that statement with the extracts I read out previously? This needs to be clarified, and let us make no bones about it, the Commissioner can clarify this. I am asking the Minister to request the Commissioner to do so. The Minister must also take this very seriously. I want to make it clear that the Commissioner can tell the public what her instructions were to the legal team. She can do so, as has been pointed out prior to this by Deputy Connolly. It is also important to make the point that the Commissioner is choosing not to do this. I want to move on from this issue because I have put it as far as I can.
There is also the issue of two gardaí who fabricated evidence to suggest that Sergeant Maurice McCabe was acting maliciously in bringing forward these allegations.
I must ask the Deputy to wrap up.
I will do so. This appears to have been believed initially and one could be forgiven for thinking that this formed the basis of the Commissioner's instructions, but we do not know that. Questions need to be asked. What disciplinary proceedings have happened concerning these two gardaí? If such proceedings have not been progressed, why not? What is happening there?
One has to ask why they did this. What prompted two colleagues to do that to another colleague? Why on earth would they do that? Were they asked to do it? Was there some underlying resentment there? Was there an issue between those two gardaí and Sergeant McCabe of which perhaps their superiors should have been aware? We do not know, but these questions need to be answered.
We must reflect on the situation that Sergeant McCabe could have been in had he not recorded that phone call. We should consider the commission's remarks on Sergeant McCabe. He impressed the commission as being never less than truthful in his evidence. The report stated that, "Some people, wrongly and unfairly, cast aspersions on Sergeant McCabe's motives" and that "Sergeant McCabe acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns". Would the report read like that today had he not recorded that phone call? We will never know.
The reality is that malpractice is not confined to Cavan-Monaghan, which the O’Higgins report deals with, or indeed to Donegal where investigations were held in the past. At the outset, I want to state clearly that in my area of Leitrim, as in other places, the vast majority of gardaí are doing their job honestly and diligently.
I intend to use this debate to raise issues of alleged Garda malpractice that have been brought to my attention by whistleblowers, both serving gardaí and former gardaí. Central to the many events I will now outline is the allegation that gardaí were engaging informants who were active criminals, which was in breach of the rules of the CHIS programme. CHIS is an acronym for the covert handing of intelligence sources. Another allegation is that gardaí were running their own informants outside the official CHIS programme. A third allegation is that some rogue gardaí have used informants or criminals over whom they have control to set up and entrap people for crimes and then prosecute them. The fourth allegation is that there were high ranking gardaí who protected these rogue gardaí and covered for them with secrecy and denial.
The following are some of the allegations that have been brought to my attention over the past two years until recently. There is an allegation that a garda informant, working under the direction of two gardaí, robbed tools and a generator from a builder’s shed and then sold the generator to a man whose house was searched the next day and the stolen property recovered. The man was subsequently charged and convicted in relation to having stolen property.
Another allegation is that a Garda informant was allegedly instructed by his handlers to set a trap for a person at an NCT centre. He placed money in a car as a bribe to get the car through the test. The car had some minor defect and should not have passed the NCT. The informant then told an employee at the NCT centre that the car was nearly okay and he had left a few euros in it. The car was passed and later that employee was charged, convicted of accepting a bribe, and lost his job. The main witness in the case was a Garda informant.
A man was wrongly charged with possession of a stolen tractor, although there was no evidence other than that the tractor may have been collected from beside a farmyard owned by this man. He had co-operated totally with the initial Garda investigation and was not considered a suspect at any time by local gardaí. The investigation was taken over by a detective sergeant who instructed that the man would be charged, to the dismay of the other gardaí. As the man left the Garda station this detective sergeant followed him and waved the charge sheet at him saying: “I can make this go away if you bring me the real culprit.”
One of the more serious incidents in Leitrim is the case of threats to the safety of two serving gardaí from a criminal gang. The detailed plans of a group of criminals preparing to attack these two gardaí at their private homes were known about by senior gardaí and for weeks the information was withheld from those men, both of whom have young families.
The two serving gardaí accidentally found out that this gang was preparing to attack their homes and had been at their houses on a number of occasions. They later discovered that one of the gang was reporting criminal activity to CHIS and that he was also working outside the formal informant programme for other gardaí. When confronted on the issue, a senior garda in the Sligo-Leitrim division eventually admitted that he knew about the planned attacks, but said they "needed to protect the source of the information". The distraught gardaí were then assured that this would never happen again and any potential threats to members would be communicated and appropriate action taken.
However, a short time after this, one of the gardaí was on duty alone in a Garda station in Leitrim. He went off duty at 4 a.m. and went home. At 8.30 a.m., he got a call to come back in because the station had been attacked and vandalised. During questioning of a man who admitted the attack on the Garda station, he claimed he was paid €100 to do it by another local man with a criminal record. The garda later learned that there was information in the possession of more senior gardaí that the station could be the subject of an arson attack on that very night. This Garda was in the station alone all night and was not informed of the possibility of an attack. The man who it was alleged paid to have the attack carried out was an informant who worked for CHIS.
I also have serious concerns around the investigation into the disappearance of a man who went missing in 2011 from his home in Aughavas, County Leitrim - my home parish. Mr. Pat Herran was a man who struggled with addiction problems. However, he was held in high regard in the local community. Around the time he was reported missing, a memorandum was distributed to gardaí about a "Pat from Leitrim" having been abducted and killed. When local gardaí arrived at the home of Mr. Herran to check into the report that he was missing, they considered the possibility of something sinister and wanted to have the house sealed off as a possible crime scene. However, senior gardaí dismissed this possibility and told them to make the usual inquiries and he would turn up drunk somewhere. After some time, when Garda management finally agreed to seal off and examine the house, they found it had been burgled in the meantime and was, therefore, forensically violated for the purposes of evidence gathering. There were also a number of individuals with links to Pat Herran whom the investigation team never even questioned, to the dismay of local gardaí. It is now known that a Garda informant was among the last people to be in Pat Herran's company before he disappeared. Pat Herran has never been found and his mother and siblings are heartbroken. The question is: was the protection of informants put before the proper investigation into the disappearance of Pat Herran?
Now it is important to point out that, in 2009, two members of An Garda Síochána stationed in Leitrim brought their concerns about the handling of intelligence sources to the attention of the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, and they were fobbed off. In 2012, they first brought it to the attention of the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, and again in 2014, after which the Minister delegated two officials from his office, including one of his chief advisers, to meet the two Garda whistleblowers. Most of the concerns I have outlined were expressed during a four-hour meeting. Indeed, documented detail of all these incidents was given to the Minister’s office at that time. Nothing ever came out of this meeting, save a letter from the Minister’s private secretary stating that no action would be taken. These past failures to deal with matters in the Leitrim district highlight the need to promptly establish a commission of investigation into Garda malpractice. I have this information and detail because, in 2014, I was made aware of allegations of Garda malpractice in Leitrim by two Garda whistleblowers and, indeed, how it related personally to me and my family. A man who claims to have been a Garda informant told me that he had been asked by certain named gardaí to carry out a robbery at my house. The informant claims he did not carry out the robbery. However, my house was broken into in March 2007 and items of value were stolen. I was an elected member of Leitrim County Council at that time.
While these incidents are several years old, I have also been contacted in the past few months by other serving gardaí who have also made allegations of malpractice in the Leitrim district.
The Deputy has mentioned an individual.
I have not mentioned an individual.
The Deputy should refrain from mentioning individuals who are not mentioned in the report.
I will not mention individuals; I have referred to incidents only.
Go raibh maith agat.
It is alleged that senior officers have reprimanded gardaí who have tried to investigate or raise concerns about criminal activity, including drugs offences, breaches of bail conditions and firearms offences. It is also alleged that senior gardaí in Leitrim have been engaged in aggressive and vindictive behaviour towards other members of the Garda and that abuses of positions of authority are common practice, leading to an atmosphere of fear and tension throughout the ranks.
In February 2015, gardaí discovered a pipe bomb along a road near Drumshambo, County Leitrim. The two uniformed gardaí who discovered the pipe bomb are being disciplined for their activity around the discovery. There is widespread disquiet at all ranks in the county about the fact that these gardaí, who did their job properly, are being disciplined. It could have the effect - some believe the intended effect - of discouraging other gardaí in the county from taking an interest in criminal activity in case they too are disciplined.
Earlier this year, a detective garda in Leitrim became aware of the existence of a gun in the possession of a member of a criminal gang operating in the area. However, the information was not put on the PULSE system, no searches were carried out and it was kept secret from almost all gardaí in the Leitrim district. A uniformed garda inadvertently found out about it and confronted the detective, who confirmed it had been reported to him but was being kept quiet. The garda immediately reported this to a sergeant who, in turn, confronted senior Garda management, who confirmed that they had known about it since the initial reporting. The sergeant expressed concern that uniformed members should have been made aware of this. As a result of this, a document was sent informing gardaí in the Sligo-Leitrim division that this person might have a gun. This was nine days after the initial report and this was despite the fact that the alleged criminal was carrying out his activities throughout a wide region. Failure to inform gardaí nationwide placed them at enormous risk. The failure to investigate this also placed members of the public at risk.
Allegations of malpractice in Leitrim not only go back a number of years but are right up to date. The vast majority of honest, hardworking gardaí in Leitrim are totally opposed to illicit activities and malpractice. If true, the conclusion of these accusations is that a small cohort within the Garda in Leitrim has considered criminal activity as an opportunity for their own advancement and, at times, has manipulated situations for their own advancement. The only way forward is for the Minister to establish a commission of investigation into the matters I have raised and into any other instances of alleged malpractice that may come forward in the future.
This is an important debate. I pay tribute to gardaí in my own county who died in the course of their duty over the past few years. The context of the debate must be the credibility, integrity and sacrifices that good gardaí have made, and will be asked to make, on our behalf. In particular, recently, Garda Golden and Detective Garda Donohoe were murdered in my county, while some years ago Sergeant Morrissey died as well. Their families suffered a tragic loss as they paid the supreme sacrifice for doing their duty as they saw fit to protect the public. Having listened to my colleague from Leitrim, I refer also to Garda Gary Sheehan, who was killed by an IRA gang some years ago while in full uniform defending the State and trying to protect a man who had been kidnapped.
If there is wrongdoing in the Garda, it must be rooted out. All the complaints the Deputy made are serious, just as those which are the subject of this report are, and I am deeply concerned by all of them. Today at the heart of our society, people are thinking about their own homes and their own security and safety. Our streets in parts of Dublin are not safe. The video on the Irish Independent website yesterday was an appalling reminder for all of us that this criminality is happening openly on our streets. The impact that is having not only in Ireland but also around the world in terms of how people view our country should not be underestimated. Strong leadership is needed now from the Government and Opposition parties and we also need to support the Garda. A greater Garda presence is needed in Dublin and if necessary, the Army should be deployed in support of the civil power.
We must ensure families are safe in their homes.
The other crisis is very damaging to the way the gardaí are perceived. We all stand behind those gardaí, we all want them to do their job as best they can and the vast majority do so. I am concerned that we see members of An Garda Síochána protesting outside this House. We should find a way forward for them and solve the issue they clearly feel so strongly about. We have never needed the gardaí more than we do right now. There has never been a greater need for the Government to act with strong and authoritative support from this House.
At the heart of this debate is not so much what Deputy Lisa Chambers spoke about, namely, the Commissioner, even though I heard everything she said. It is the other part mentioned by the Deputy. If two senior members of An Garda Síochána conspire to trap a whistleblower, who would have been destroyed by the commission if he did not have that tape in his hand, it is at the heart of our system. That is extremely corrupt and profoundly unacceptable. The country cannot accept this. It is bringing into disrepute all of the gardaí who work with might and main with our support every day of the week. This must be dealt with immediately. I do not know if these men have been put on administrative leave. If not, they should be. They should not be acting as gardaí in uniform while this allegation hangs over them. If it is true, it is my view that significant and adverse findings should be made against them.
We are talking about the integrity of the Garda. This vindicates Sergeant McCabe. Somebody was quoted in the report as saying that if they had a problem, they would go to the local gardaí but the problem was not solved. The problem was compounded. Deputies have read the report so they know the issue. Do we want people like Sergeant McCabe or not? I think we want hundreds or thousands of them because most gardaí are like Sergeant McCabe. They are honest, hard-working and profoundly committed men and women and I support them in their tasks. Obviously, Sergeant McCabe's journey to our debate has been very difficult for him and his family but he is a strong person who is exactly what we need in our police force. I would much rather have the likes of him as Commissioner than anybody else from the furnace of problems he has been through. Of all his concerns, the most profound was the murder that subsequently occurred in Limerick. A woman lost her life and it should never have happened. If he was listened to, it may never have happened. It is obviously profoundly upsetting for the victim's family and all of us.
The question is where we go from here. How do we deal with this issue? I understand that the Commissioner is today meeting with the Policing Authority, which is an independent body that will deal with that issue. We must move on. People have said things here today about the Department of Justice and Equality. I want to mention one brave and powerful Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Brian Purcell. He stood up to those criminals we are fighting today on the streets of Dublin. He is the man who would not sign forms for Martin Cahill and suffered an attack where he was kidnapped and shot for defending our society and saying that someone could not be a criminal and abuse the system. I know he is no longer Secretary General but I pay tribute to him and his courage and people like him. We need people like him and Sergeant McCabe. We need change. I commend Mr. Justice O'Higgins for his report, which is extremely thorough. Mr. Justice O'Higgins is very clear in his views.
At the end of the day, what do we have? We have a vindication of a very committed garda, very serious allegations regarding two very senior members of the force and a Commissioner who is answering questions today. They must be dealt with as quickly as possible but we must restore law and order in our cities. We must get back to basics and ensure there is zero tolerance for criminality in our north inner city or any other part of our State. We must support gardaí wherever we can and we must also go a step further. The new Minister of State for communities and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is the ideal person to deal with many inner-city problems. I know the Acting Chairman, Deputy Broughan, has significant knowledge of Dublin issues. Notwithstanding the crisis we face, we have a golden opportunity to go into those areas. We could create a committee with a maximum term of two months to look at these issues, visit these areas, listen in schools and to mothers in shops and come up with firm and convincing plans to ensure things change. A report produced some years ago stated that people living in certain electoral districts in Dublin are more likely to be in jail, to die younger and to have less of an education than people in other parts of the city. There is profound inequality in many of these areas. We now have an opportunity in the tragedy we are facing in this city to deal with it and put in the investment. I commend the Taoiseach on his actions in appointing Deputy Catherine Byrne as Minister of State because she knows better than anybody the issues and how they can be resolved.
Let us grasp the nettle as an Oireachtas and deal with this issue effectively. I commend the members of Fianna Fáil and other parties who recognise that the country wants us to deal with these issues. We can all move forward together on a common platform to look for effective short, medium and long-term solutions to the issues facing the north inner city and other deprived areas of our country.
In the workings of the Committee of Public Accounts over the past five years, one of the most impressive witnesses who came before us and the only witness who came before us in private session was Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Everything he said was supported by documentary evidence. Those who were concerned about how he might behave or what he might say during the course of that meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts were impressed afterwards by the fact that he presented well and proved anything he said and that the documents he presented to the committee showed us that there was, in my opinion, a lot of corruption within the force at that time.
I want to read a circular dated 4 July 2011. It is signed by the chief superintendent, C. M. Rooney, and it went out to the assistant commissioners and district offices and so on in the Cavan-Monaghan division. It states clearly that on 24 June 2011:
I had a meeting with assistant commissioner, Derek Byrne, national support services, Garda Headquarters, Monaghan Garda station. He informed me that he had completed his investigation into complaints made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The findings of the investigation were approved by the Garda Commissioner. The investigation concluded that there was no systemic failure identified in the management and administration of Bailieborough Garda district. A number of minor procedural issues were identified. On further investigation at local level, no evidence was found to substantiate the alleged breach of procedure. The assistant commissioner further concluded that there was no criminal conduct identified on the part of any member of the district force.
I would like to congratulate all members who served in Bailieborough district during the period in question. In particular, I wish to thank Sergeant Gavigan who provided leadership, enthusiasm, commitment, steering the station party through the crisis that has occurred. The findings of the assistant commissioner vindicate the high standard and professionalism of the district force in Bailieborough. I appreciate the manner in which the members of the district participating in the investigation were open and truthful in their account of the events surrounding the allegations. I hope that all members and their families could put this difficult period behind them and continue to serve the public and their colleagues in an efficient and professional manner.
One has to take that letter into consideration when one reads the O'Higgins report because O'Higgins clearly contradicts everything that is in that letter - everything, all of the cases mentioned by Sargeant McCabe and mentioned in the O'Higgins report. There is a serious conflict here; somebody is wrong. This circular was given to the assistant commissioner and each district officer in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
I gave an account of when Garda McCabe came before the Committee of Public Accounts. Every effort was made by those within the Garda Síochána at senior level to discredit Garda Maurice McCabe, including the outgoing Garda Commissioner who confided to me in a car park on the Naas Road that he was not to be trusted and there were serious issues in relation to Garda McCabe. The vile stories that circulated about Garda McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda, were absolutely appalling. Because they attempted to discredit him, he had to bring forward various pieces of strong, firm evidence to protect his integrity. During the course of that time, we have to recognise that the political establishment was of absolutely no help to him. Every effort was made to ensure he would not appear before the Committee of Public Accounts. Every effort was made to dampen down the strong evidence he put into the public domain, which he had to do to protect himself, but also to inform us about what was going on with penalty points and other issues.
Look at those other issues. On 17 May, the Minister for Justice and Equality answered a parliamentary question on the death of Shane O'Farrell. His mother, Lucia O'Farrell, has been campaigning since that time to have an investigation into it. The Minister relies on the review mechanism and the findings of that mechanism which she put in place. At that time, the result of that review mechanism was that nothing further was to be done in Lucia O'Farrell's case. Deputy Mick Wallace and others have already mentioned the name of officer Cunningham. In view of the findings and what is going on, will the Minister now reopen the case of the death of Shane O'Farrell? Will she find out why a garda one hour before had stopped that car and asked the driver to change with the passenger because there was no tax or insurance? The passenger then drove the car that later killed - murdered - young Shane O'Farrell. We have to reopen that case because everything in it tells us what is wrong with the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality. We are part of a cover up in this House if we do not clearly demand that the case be reinvestigated. There are similar cases, such as the Fr. Molloy case and the Mary Boyle case. Why is it that the State has to stonewall each and every one of these cases? Why is it we have to protect those who should not be protected? In the interest of what or whom is it? In the interests of justice, these cases have to be examined. The Minister cannot ignore this debate. She cannot ignore the facts around the officers involved in that station relative to the Shane O'Farrell case in particular. We cannot ignore the activities of those officers who deliberately went to set up and discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe. They have to be independently investigated. It has been said they are being referred to GSOC. I heard former Chief Superintendent John O'Brien this morning on the radio, who likened an investigation by GSOC to being mauled by a dead sheep. That is what he said and that is the view of the public.
For far too long in this House and in politics we have stuck to the same old politics. In our actions, we have protected the system when that system was delivering an injustice to individuals and families throughout the country. There have been demands for the Minister and Commissioner to resign but the culture has to be changed. That is essentially where the problem is. We are afraid to attempt to change that culture because of the vested interests that are there. We say that we passed the legislation on protected disclosures and that now, at this late stage, the Commissioner will do something about it. There are individuals across every Department who are affected by bullying and harassment. Their stories are being dampened down and they are being discriminated against and sanctioned for telling the truth. The one thing this House seems to be afraid of is the truth. We are hearing the truth from Maurice McCabe. We have heard it from the whistleblowers in the Department of Finance and AIB and from the other whistleblowers in the Garda Síochána. We have done nothing about it.
I have heard at first hand a recent case which has been sorted by the Garda where a young garda was put into a situation and had to pee in a bottle rather than leave his station because he knew he was being set up. Is that what we stand for in this House? Is that the injustice we will allow to happen? Kicking this can down the road will not solve this problem. It will not give us the strength of the Garda that is needed to deal with the issues of crime on Dublin streets that we see at the moment. I agree with Paul Williams who spoke about tigers led by donkeys. He gave descriptions of all sorts of things that are happening in Dublin about which nothing is being done. The gardaí on the beat need to be supported. Whatever it costs the State, we need to put money and resources behind them. We need to stop bluffing and stop the politically correct contributions we are making on all these issues and start to take real, imaginative and radical steps to ensure we have an independent authority that will protect the likes of McCabe.
I received an anonymous letter from an individual asking what was written on the note that was passed on the day of the Committee of Public Accounts meeting from the current Commissioner to the former Commissioner, Martin Callinan, before he uttered the word "disgusting". The writer wonders if he was prompted or encouraged to do it. It has to be asked how much does the current Commissioner know and how far did the outgoing Commissioner go to discredit Maurice McCabe? It is an appalling vista as one looks at this issue.
The Minister and Members of the House have to give leadership. There must be political leadership. My demand is that we reopen the cases before the commission, like that of Shane O'Farrell, Mary Boyle and the others, and face the truth. We need to protect the whistleblowers that are currently being sanctioned and treated badly. It continued after the penalty points issue. Maurice McCabe highlighted that and we did nothing about it.
I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak on this very important issue. I would like to think that we have come to a juncture where we have addressed the issues that have been a cause of concern over recent years.
The origin of these issues dates back almost ten years. They were in the ether, so to speak, for a long time and were reported at the time. Garda Maurice McCabe, as he was then, reported those issues many years ago but they failed to be dealt with by the previous Minister for Justice and Equality. It was suggested at the time that he did not discharge his duties accurately on foot of the Guerin report. Admittedly, the report was deemed to be in a position to assess the situation in so far as it could in a short time.
The O'Higgins report probed deeper into the history of the circumstances and, I would like to believe, dealt much more comprehensively and satisfactorily with the situation that arose. I am concerned that we would second-guess the end of this report because if we second-guess everything we do in this business, we will be here for a long time talking about the same issues.
Reference has been made repeatedly to the extent to which the Garda Commissioner may have instructed counsel. In deference to the counsel on the opposite side of the House, my experience of counsel, and I am not a lawyer but I have been cross-examined by counsel for the other side many times in court, is that if one employs counsel in any case, one's solicitor instructs counsel and they do their job. Their job is to test the veracity of the case being put to them, and they do not ask anybody's permission as to how they should do it.
There has been much discussion on whether specific instructions were given by the Commissioner to her counsel. I would have expected that there was an agreement to the effect that counsel would not address the issue or be in any way aggressive or invasive in their questioning, unless that was done beforehand. In terms of progress of the case, therefore, the solution would be that counsel would do their job. It is not very nice sometimes when they do their job, but that is the purpose of a counsel, and the opposing counsel has a similar responsibility.
When a situation like that arises, there are two opposing sides, which do their best. Each of them is in court for a particular purpose. That is the responsibility with which they are charged. That is the job they are paid for and if they did not do it effectively and authoritatively, the client would ask them what they were doing in court. Members know that because we have all had constituents say that to us. I would like to believe that counsel did their job, as they were entitled to do, and that they did so objectively in terms of testing the veracity of whatever case is put to them.
My experience as a Member of this House is that Government used to be discouraged from interfering with An Garda Síochána. There was always a suggestion that there should be a distance between Government and An Garda Síochána, and I agree with that. I am aware there were difficulties in An Garda Síochána in Donegal, Cavan and other areas, and all of those issues must be thoroughly investigated to the satisfaction of victims in particular, about whom we do not spend much time talking. In the debate that takes place, the victims are in the background while we argue about the niceties or otherwise of the way their cases are dealt with. To protect the integrity of the force it is vitally important that all situations referred to or concerns raised by whistleblowers are thoroughly and openly investigated in so far as that can be done. In the event of a commission of inquiry, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have direct public access to it and have it operate on a confidential basis at the same time. One defeats the purpose of the other, but much work has been done in that regard.
Some Members of this House expressed opposition to the current Commissioner of An Garda Síochána before she was appointed. That is unfair. Everybody who is appointed to do a job in the public arena, whatever it is, should be given a fair chance to do it because if we do not allow them do it, subject them to continuous criticism and question their every move, we will not get people willing to go forward in order to be pilloried. I hope it is recognised that the Garda Commissioner, whoever that person may be, is entitled to do their job in the way it was intended, in compliance with regulations and in keeping with the legislation that has been introduced in the meantime.
There are nine items in terms of improved legislation and so on. The Policing Authority was established as a result of the debate that took place at that time. The appointments of the Garda Commissioner and two Deputy Garda Commissioners were made on foot of an open and independent selection process; that was the first time that happened. The role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was strengthened, including its power to investigate complaints against the Garda Commissioner, which was also innovative. We had new and comprehensive whistleblower protection measures through Garda whistleblowers. The members of An Garda Síochána may now communicate their concerns to the Garda Commissioner who can also be investigated, which is something new. The Freedom of Information Act has been extended to include An Garda Síochána, which is also an innovation. The independent review of the penalty points system by the Garda Inspectorate and the appointment of a judge, a former President of the Circuit Court, to the new position of the oversight authority for the fixed charge processing system is new procedure and legislation. Steps have been taken to implement the recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate's crime investigation report, which was published in November 2014. A series of other measures have been put in place to address the concerns raised as a result of difficulties that arose in the force over some considerable time.
It is vitally important that members of the general public have absolute confidence in An Garda Síochána, its institutions, the manner in which it does its business and the way in which it deals with the public. There is an important role for the members of the public also who must have respect for the institutions of the State, including An Garda Síochána. We live in a time when everybody's authority is questioned. Shootings are taking place in the streets on a daily basis. Nothing is sacred any more. It is of huge significance that An Garda Síochána receives the respect required for its function, and that means the people of all ranks, provided they observe all the regulations pertinent to their respective positions.
As we move forward, and I hope we have learned many lessons, we must remember that it is said the morale of the members of An Garda Síochána is at a low ebb. It is at a low ebb for a number of reasons, one of which is that they are questioned all the time. I accept it is important that we move forward into a new era and that we do things transparently and in a way we can stand over, but in doing so there should be a recognition that the members of An Garda Síochána need support also. There must be recognition from the public that the members do an important job, which we send them out to do on a daily basis. When they go to work in the morning, they do not know whether they will come back that evening, or ever, and many of them have not come back. We must have respect for the force, support it, recognise that its members have to do their job, and demand of the force adherence to the rules and regulations that should apply at all times.
As a native of Bailieborough, it is with a heavy heart that I make my contribution on the publication of the O'Higgins report on the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division. It is important to note at the outset that there are many good gardaí in the State who do their job with the utmost professionalism, honesty and integrity but my sympathy goes to the victims who have been let down by the State. We must be clear that there is an urgent need to implement the recommendations of the report. We cannot change what has happened but we must learn from it.
We must create an environment for the public and the Garda so that trust is at the core of every encounter between the citizens of the island and the keepers of the State. Victims must always be at the heart of the Garda service and the ongoing reform of the force with practical and cultural change embraced to restore the confidence and trust of the public.
The O'Higgins report states there is a perception that the gardaí in Bailieborough were working under a cloud for many years and the commission considers it of utmost importance that the end of the inquiry would herald the beginning of a new era for the gardaí there. This is critical to the community in Bailieborough and the force itself. The commission considers that given the unique position of Bailieborough, even more priority should be given to the construction of a new Garda station there. Such a move would be much more important than a symbolic gesture. It would boost morale and herald a new era for the provision of the service to the community by the Garda in the area. The report states:
The Garda station in Bailieboro is not fit for purpose. The commission is aware that in An Garda Síochána Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021, announced by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works on 21 October 2015, the building of a new Garda station is planned and the commission welcomes this.
I hope the closing of this inquiry will enable the Garda in the area to have a fresh start, putting the subject matter of the inquiry behind them, learning lessons where appropriate and proceeding to discharge faithfully the duties of a member of An Garda Síochána with fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence, impartiality and upholding the Constitution and the law, according equal respect to all people.
It is my understanding that the Office of Public Works has located a new site for a Garda station in Bailieborough and I urge the Minister and the office to ensure it is constructed as soon as possible, taking cognisance of the ever demanding needs of the force. The current station is a listed building and, as I stated, it is not fit for purpose. It is therefore imperative that a new station can equip the Garda with facilities, parking and the fresh start so badly needed.
I have watched these debates as a legislator and lawyer with much interest. I am always interested in how the Garda Síochána can be improved and its efficacy enhanced. My grandfather - my father's father - was a member of An Garda Síochána so I have particular affinity to it and enormous respect for the work it does on a daily basis. However, no organ of the State should be immune from criticism, whether it is constructive or otherwise. We owe it to the public and victims of crime to have a responsive and efficient police force that can investigate crimes properly. In this particular instance, we owe most of our respect and attention to the victims in this report. It is their particular experience of crime and interactions with An Garda Síochána that are most deserving of our focus. I am pleased the O'Higgins report has made clear that both my former constituency colleague, former Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Garda Commissioner acted appropriately. However, the focus of this report must be how we can better serve victims of crime.
The central issues have been ignored by many contributors in this House and my focus will be on victims and procedural errors in the investigations. There are eight offences at the core of the report, three of which are of a very grave nature and all of which happened in east Cavan over ten months in 2007. There was an assault on a bus in February, an assault at a hotel in April, an assault on a taxi driver in April by a man who subsequently murdered a woman in Limerick, an assault in May in a pub in Bailieborough, the doctoring of vinegar in a café in Bailieborough in August with potential health consequences, an assault in September on a 17 year old girl in Cootehill, the reporting of approximately 35 offences occurring over a previous year in September by a paedophile priest, including that involving a 15 year old youth and an assault by a motorist who ran over three people in December, which caused injury to those victims. Of those eight offences, only two resulted in convictions, both involving the party pleading guilty.
I do not believe many of these crimes were minor, and as I stated, three were of a very grave nature. Those which were minor could have had very serious consequences. I am sure some of the victims still bear the emotional and physical scars from these events. There is a common thread running through the report of not being well served by the Garda. It would be of better service to the victims for Garda Commissioner O'Sullivan to address if and where significant changes have happened. A number of the recommendations in the report are focused on that.
Some Members are under the misapprehension that a lack of resources was an issue at the time. We must remember that in 2007, in theory at least, it was a time of plenty, before the economy crashed. Garda strength stood at 14,000 members. We were not in government at the time but we have responded to protect whistleblowers. The focus must also be on protecting the victims.
The issues repeated consistently in the report concern proper investigation. We know what they are and they include inadequate note-taking; taking frequently undated statements from a random sample of relevant witnesses; recording potentially serious offences in PULSE as minor; poor practices with available CCTV; mislaying vital evidence, specifically the computer in a sex abuse case; citing the wrong sections in charges and search warrants; and poor supervision. Have these areas been examined or will they be examined? How could we improve these areas? As we know, organisations like Victim Support and Advic represent the needs of families of victims of homicide and have repeatedly stressed the need for victims to be listened to and for proper procedures to be followed in investigations. These are the core concerns of the O'Higgins report.
I have raised these matters in parliamentary questions and I look forward to them being addressed. It would be very useful to understand what steps have been taken to address these general issues. As a citizen, I hope these issues are historic and that victim concern and proper process are now central to how the Garda operates. I look forward to examining how we can respond better to victims of crime. We owe them at least that.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute. I welcome the report and, as my colleague indicated, it is really important to remember that at the heart of what we are talking about in the report are people and victims who have had horrendous experiences. We must welcome the report and recommendations therein.
I will address one or two very important aspects relating to what we as a Parliament are doing today in discussing the O'Higgins report. In particular I welcome the findings relating to Mr. Alan Shatter, who is a former Deputy and Minister. He was an excellent reforming politician throughout his career and the findings in this report are to be warmly welcomed, particularly regarding the manner in which he dealt with issues as they arose.
One of the key aspects we must consider today is that we are spending a large amount of time dealing with leaks, partial leaks and comments originating from the process of creating the report. A commission of investigation was established by the House as an alternative to having a tribunal of inquiry, for example, and the O'Higgins investigation has done an excellent job in showing how we can speedily and effectively deal with issues that arise. It is therefore very disappointing on one level that certain Deputies have used partial leaks - some have used very malicious leaks - that have individually targeted one or two people in the process. This will inevitably lead to the undermining of the entire commission of investigation process. As we debate the issue today, we have already heard calls for a new commission of investigation for other allegations. What would the people going into that feel about this process and conversations that they may have, which they believe to be private and part of the process with legal representation, if those conversations ended up as part of a political slanging match or opportunistic debate? As public representatives, we must be really careful that in a process of politics and justifiably considering matters, we do not end with the real casualty being the commission of investigation process.
The O'Higgins process has served us well. It is a good process. I welcome its findings and it shows the way we can deal with this issue. We need to be very careful that we do not end up causing this whole process to be undermined such that people will not be willing to participate in future commissions of investigation because of what we do as Deputies in this House.
The other aspect I would like to make very clear is that we also debated against a background of violent criminal activity which has taken place over recent weeks and months, particularly in our capital city. We must put on record, as always, our gratitude to the members of An Garda Síochána, from the Commissioner downwards, through all the ranks, for the daily work they do in targeting the vile scourge of gangland crime in particular, which we have seen in recent weeks. It is incumbent on us to remember that the vast majority of members of the Garda go to work daily to tackle situations which we as the public would find too frightening to want to deal with every day. We owe them our support and we need to recognise in particular that the Garda Commissioner has done an excellent job in utilising the force and its resources to tackle the scourge of crime, especially gangland crime. In that broader context, we need to be very careful as parliamentarians to welcome the O'Higgins report but also to realise that the commission of investigation process is one that can serve us well. We should not undermine it.
I want to use a few minutes of the time to refer to the report and to many of the fine contributions to this debate. My party has already welcomed the O'Higgins report into alleged Garda malpractice. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, the very best in her new role. It is not justice, but I know she is assigned to an important area and I am sure she will be very concerned about this debate and all that is being said.
It is quite clear from the report that Sergeant McCabe was impressive, truthful and, as the report stated, a dedicated member of An Garda Síochána. In respect of the report, it is extremely important that we get its suggestions implemented. We have to remind ourselves that we are talking about the Garda Síochána, the police force of the country. In any country, what is needed most of all is a genuine, upfront and well looked after police force. That is why I think every Member of this Chamber, all 158, has a major responsibility and duty in this House to address this issue, maybe not on political point-scoring, but certainly in respect of righting the things that are wrong in our Garda Síochána at the moment.
There are issues of concern in respect of the transcripts. If one reads the O'Higgins commission report - I have not read it all - it appears to indicate that counsel for the Garda Commissioner was questioning the credibility and motivation of the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe. If that is so, it is outrageous and unacceptable. This is the type of thing we must bring to an end in our Garda force, if it is happening. As my party colleague said a few moments ago, there are a number of situations that have arisen over the years and that probably need investigation. He mentioned the Fr. Molloy case, which concerns a man from my own county of Roscommon, and the Mary Boyle case, along with others. It would be fair to say that the public is concerned. While people have great respect for the Garda Síochána, they would like to see all those matters cleared up and put to bed once and for all.
The leaking of the report causes me great concern and I am sure many Members are concerned about it. We need to look at a total overhaul of the Department of Justice and Equality. I get the impression, as a new Member of this House, that we are limping along and that there are many matters that need to be tackled. In respect of the Garda Síochána, there is the issue of credibility in certain situations. There is also the issue of pay and conditions for many members of An Garda Síochána, as all Members of this House well know. Many of them are struggling. Going back to what I said earlier, one of the most important ingredients for a successful and peaceful country is a good police force and, in general, we have a very good police force. However, I am concerned that many of its members are now under a great deal of pressure because of pay and conditions and, maybe in some situations, because of intimidation. During her speech, Deputy Róisín Shortall was somewhat critical of Fianna Fáil and its stance on this issue, but I reject that totally. We have contributed to all the debates. Our justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, has been on a number of radio and television stations and has openly spoken to the media about this situation. Indeed, many members of this party have spoken on the issue and about their concerns regarding particular situations.
It is so important that our police force is beyond reproach. It is also so important that we look after its members, take care of them and ensure they are all treated with respect and dignity. On the other side of that, it is extremely important that any situations that need to be investigated are investigated by the Department of Justice and Equality. I hope the Minister will take on board many of the comments and suggestions that have been made here.
The report vindicated both the former Minister, Alan Shatter, and the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, in relation to the events being investigated by the commission. However, our party maintains that Alan Shatter's position as Minister for Justice and Equality was untenable at least a year before his actual resignation in May 2014. In 2013, he abused his position as Minister for Justice and Equality when he used private information conveyed to him in confidence by the Garda Commissioner to score political points against an Opposition Deputy. We should not forget that the then Minister, by his own admission, misled the Dáil in 2013 when he said that whistleblowers did not co-operate with Garda investigations.
One could say there are whistleblowers and there are whistleblowers. Every whistleblower has an entitlement to have his or her complaints investigated. That does not mean a whistleblower's allegations can be accepted immediately or deemed straight away to be true, but the benefit of a commission of investigation is that it can test all those allegations from whistleblowers and come out with the truth.
The Garda is important to us. Its members do tremendous work. We see at the moment what they have to deal with in terms of crime in Dublin city, with murderous gangs. It is a very difficult situation for them and there are many other issues elsewhere in the country. In general, the Garda does a very good job and we want to look after our police force, but we also need to investigate the issues that need to be investigated and cleared up once and for all in order that all of our people have faith and belief in the Garda Síochána. It is up to every Member of this Dáil to make a valuable contribution to this debate, because our police force is about us all and we are all about our police force.
As no other Deputies are offering, I now call on the Minister to respond.
Sorry. The Minister has ten minutes.
I, too, welcome the opportunity-----
The Minister is not responding, is he?
No, I am not.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the report of the O’Higgins commission of investigation. I am reminded of my time as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts when, along with my colleagues on the committee, I met with Sergeant Maurice McCabe. I want to place on record my view that it is vital that we continue to value the important role played by whistleblowers acting in the public interest. We would not be here today debating this report and the lessons that must be learned, and that have been learned, were it not for Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and I thank him for that. I had the opportunity to meet Sergeant McCabe at the Committee of Public Accounts and to hear his evidence. The committee, and ultimately all of society, benefited from that evidence and the report which is before the House today.
We must not lose sight of victims in the political debates in the House and in media debate. At times, victims were clearly let down and did not receive the service and the diligence that they had every right to expect. Lessons must be learned and lessons have been learned. Through the protected disclosure measures, I would like to think we now have an environment much more favourable towards people who come forward and put what is often sensitive information into the public domain and with the correct authorities so the information can be assessed. The whistleblower has a very important role to play in Irish society.
I am concerned at times about efforts by a small number of people in the House and outside to cast general derogatory aspersions on all members of An Garda Síochána. It is quite clear that no organisation and no rank is beyond reproach or beyond question - that Ireland of the past must remain in the past. The overwhelming majority of members of An Garda Síochána serve our country and our communities with distinction and they do us proud. They work hard and at times in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances. Currently, we see the challenges facing the men and women of An Garda Síochána in the north inner city of Dublin. We all stand behind the gardaí in their work to tackle brutal, violent gangland crimes. It is easy for politicians and commentators to criticise the Garda on reading the O’Higgins report - some criticism is certainly justified - but it is important to note that some of the criticism in the report clearly rests well beyond the responsibility of the Garda. The responsibility for addressing some of the criticism rests in this House, on the floor of Dáil Éireann. Our gardaí need to be adequately supported and resourced to do their job, work that the Minister for Justice and Equality is continuing to carry out, and the report is quite clear on the past shortcomings in that regard.
I will focus on just two areas of the report, specifically areas in which the House must continue to do better in addressing the challenges and what the Government is doing now in that regard. First, some of the deficiencies identified by the O’Higgins report relate to inadequate supervision of junior gardaí. I am please that significant changes have been made in that area. Under operational regulations, daily performance accountability and learning framework, PALF, meetings take place at which incidents occurring in the previous 24 hours are discussed with the district superintendent, or the inspector on his or her behalf, and with gardaí and supervisors. Directions and instructions are provided on matters under investigation. It is a much more collaborative and inclusive reporting and accountability mechanism. In a further recent development, a nominated supervisor is now allocated to all matters under investigation. Required actions are marked on associated PULSE incidents under investigation and must be attended to by investigating gardaí. All incidents are reviewed by managers to ensure all actions and investigations are progressed.
Changes have also taken place in the training programme for gardaí to enhance policing services. Since the reopening by the Tánaiste of the Garda College in September 2014, all Garda recruits undertake the new two-year training programme leading to a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Policing, accredited by the University of Limerick. This programme is the outcome of a comprehensive review of foundation training for entrants to An Garda Síochána and exemplifies best practice. Phase one, which lasts 32 weeks, is based in the Garda College and places a strong emphasis on problem-based learning, with students learning in small groups through engagement with realistic policing scenarios. Phase two, which lasts for 65 weeks, is primarily based in Garda stations, with appropriate training and development structures in place, including access to a trained tutor garda and a permanently appointed supervisory sergeant who are thoroughly familiar with their responsibilities under the training programme. During the course of their placement, trainees move through three development stages - assisting their garda tutors, taking the lead role and being assisted by the tutors, and finally the autonomous stage, in which they are deployed in regular policing activity and work independently within the operational unit. Over the course of the placement, gardaí also return to the Garda College for a number of weeks to further enhance their skills in specialist areas, including sexual assault, intelligence-led policing, file preparation and court presentation. Phase three consists of seven weeks of preparation for final examinations and assessments.
I outline these measures because some elements in the debate have implied that nothing has changed. This is simply not factually correct. The programme of change and reform within our justice system continues and is led by the Tánaiste. For some people to simply suggest that nothing has changed and that nothing has moved on is not accurate and is not fair to the rank and file members of An Garda Síochána. I have no doubt that all of these changes will considerably enhance the delivery of policing services in the State. These new improvements to training must be part of our collective response to addressing some of the issues in the O'Higgins report and continuing to support An Garda Síochána in responding to the deficiencies highlighted in the report.
The report also talks about the impact of inadequate Garda stations and infrastructure on morale and the ability of gardaí to carry out their duties. In some cases, gardaí have been working in sub-standard stations with sub-standard facilities. My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, is acutely aware of the issues. This is why, in my previous role as Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, the Tánaiste and I launched, in October 2015, the first programme of refurbishment and development of Garda stations and facilities in quite some time, the Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021. This programme provides for over €60 million in direct Exchequer funding as part of the Government's capital plan and also provides for public private partnership. The direct Exchequer funding includes €18 million provided under the Garda Vote, which is in addition to the funding allocated under the OPW Vote. The programme was developed by the Garda and the OPW having regard to the strategic priorities of An Garda Síochána, and includes the development of new stations through the public private partnership model, major refurbishment of stations including facilities for meeting victims of crime, essential remedial works to existing stations, the development of large-scale property and exhibit management stores, upgrading of cells and the provision of improved custody management facilities.
The programme includes 34 projects at 30 locations throughout the State plus 15 cell improvement projects. These projects are in addition to the three major projects already under way at a cost of €100 million to provide divisional or regional headquarters in Galway, Kevin Street in Dublin and Wexford town. The Exchequer-funded projects will be delivered through the OPW in conjunction with An Garda Síochána. In many instances the work will commence this year and the projects will be delivered through the lifetime of the programme. A public private partnership will be developed to facilitate larger-scale projects including new stations at Clonmel, Macroom and Sligo. A public private partnership will be developed in conjunction with the National Development Finance Agency. I am pleased to have had an opportunity within the last Government to work with colleagues and the Tánaiste in delivering this programme of investment in Garda stations and Garda infrastructure. The deficiencies in Garda facilities are highlighted in the O'Higgins commission of investigation report which is before the House for debate.
While there is significantly more work to be done, I would say that the role of a whistleblower must be valued and is valued by this Government and very much by society. It is important not to lose sight of victims among the media and political commentary in the House and in society over the past few weeks. It must be a core resolve to support victims, and we have to continue to support An Garda Síochána. It is too simplistic an analysis to suggest that all of the deficiencies highlighted by the report should land simply at the door of An Garda Síochána when some of those deficiencies are being addressed and will continue to be addressed by the Government and the Oireachtas.
The Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan's eagerly awaited statement yesterday left a lot to be desired. It failed to clarify any of the serious questions that were put to her over the past week.
I refer specifically to whether she instructed her legal team to challenge the integrity, motivation and credibility of whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe. She has still not addressed this extremely serious allegation in any coherent or credible manner. Instead, the Garda Commissioner has danced around this issue and said that it would be unfair to address the partial transcripts in the public domain, yet goes on to state that her legal team was not instructed to "impugn the integrity" of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. She then suggests that it would not have been unreasonable or improper for such an approach to be taken in the name of cross-examination, implying that she did not do what is alleged but that if she had done so, this would have been acceptable. In the first instance, she hides behind legislation, and then goes on to use semantics in an attempt to bury the issue.
It is my view that she keeps digging, and it is simply not good enough. None of it adds up and it is simply not acceptable for her to act in such a manner. That said, I recognise that there are positive aspects to her statement. She made reference to the "inescapable lessons" for the Garda and how the O'Higgins report highlighted "a number of critical areas including... dealings with whistleblowers". However, a question remains, and not just in the mind of this Deputy. It is a question that is very much a conversation well beyond the confines of this institution. How can we trust a Commissioner to oversee such changes and learn from these lessons when there are very serious allegations against her in her role, allegations that she has not confronted directly? Instead, as I have already stated, she is dancing around them.
It is appropriate to pay tribute to Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe, whom I have never met. He was undoubtedly subjected to a very serious and personally targeted smear campaign. The issues brought to light by him were matters by and large that arose in my constituency and that of my colleague on the neighbouring benches. I believe it is imperative and important to put on the record of this House that, from conversations I have had with individual gardaí in the Cavan-Monaghan division, it is clear to me that Sergeant Maurice McCabe's courageous efforts are not perceived as negatively as has been reported. In fact, his efforts to ensure the highest standards within the Garda and to ensure that everyone is treated equally before the law are well respected within those ranks and rightly so.
I acknowledge also former Garda John Wilson who also had the courage to speak out about serious wrongdoings within the Garda. His and Sergeant McCabe's motivation has been and remains, in this Deputy's opinion, beyond reproach. I hope that the ongoing review will address all of the critical matters that have been addressed. A substantial body of issues has been highlighted and needs to be thoroughly and properly investigated and openly and transparently reported on. While many may hope that these are the last words to be heard on this matter, I hope the Minister will come back to this House in an appropriately short period of time to address substantively all of the relevant issues in a very particular and acceptable way.
I thank everyone for their contributions on this very important matter. As I said in my statement yesterday, we need look no further than the bloody recent events in the north inner city of Dublin to understand just how important is the work of the Garda Síochána. It is precisely because the service the Garda provides is so vital, so important, that it must be delivered to the very highest standards. The O’Higgins report, unfortunately, details numerous occasions, as Deputy Ó Caoláin and others have stated, when that did not happen, and it highlights areas where improvements have to be made. They have been well rehearsed in this House yesterday and again today and I do not have enough time to go over all of them in detail now, but I did acknowledge those issues during my contribution yesterday.
I wish to address specifically some of the points that have been raised during the course of the debate here yesterday and today. It is important that I deal with comments in the debate about allegations around what took place at a meeting between gardaí in Mullingar. I recognise the concerns around these allegations, and I said that yesterday. As has been stated, the Commissioner has asked me to refer that to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and I have declared my intention to do so. In particular, the question was asked as to why this is only being referred to GSOC now.
We should be very careful about regarding as established fact - I heard Deputy O'Callaghan say this on "Morning Ireland" and I welcome his comments in relation to it this morning - something that is reported to have happened at the commission which is not referred to in Mr. Justice O'Higgins's report. As I have explained to the House before, the proceedings before the commission were by law confidential, so I am not in a position, and nor is anyone else in this House, to confirm or deny reports that have come into the public domain about parts of the proceedings because I properly have no knowledge of them. Even if those facts were established, what is being suggested is that the Garda Commissioner should, while the commission was still going on, have launched her own investigation into certain matters that were before the commission before Mr. Justice O'Higgins made his findings about the matter.
It is easy to see how that would have been portrayed as a gross interference with the work of the commission. Now that the commission has reported, I do not believe that anyone would be satisfied if the Garda Commissioner simply launched her own investigation into the matter. What we are left with is that, whatever the reality of what actually happened, there is understandable public concern at allegations that members of An Garda Síochána may have fabricated an account of a meeting to cause damage to a colleague, and that is now rightly being referred to GSOC. That is the appropriate forum to deal properly and fairly with this matter.
It is a great pity that, within a couple of hours of my announcing that yesterday, a Deputy saw fit to put the purported names of persons involved in that meeting on the record of the House. It is hard to reconcile the passion with which some Deputies say they are pursuing justice with a blatant disregard for the rights of others. To campaign under the slogan "justice for all" rings very hollow when set against using this Chamber in this way. Of course, it makes it all the more difficult to discuss the issue, both inside and outside this House, where anything we say is now going to be taken as a reference to two people who also have basic human rights to their good names and have a right to defend themselves. It is important that I make that point here today.
A number of Deputies raised the treatment of whistleblowers and the specific cases of other Garda members who have made allegations. Any dispassionate reading of the O'Higgins report and an objective assessment of the events of the past couple of years demonstrate two things: the dangers of rushing to judgment and the need to have fair, independent and objective procedures in place for dealing with allegations of wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána. We should all face up to the fact that my predecessor was excoriated across the floor of this House about matters which some considerable time later he was found to have dealt with properly. Whatever passion Members of this House might have in pursuing what they believe to be great wrongs, we would all do well to reflect that righting the wrongs done to some by doing wrong to others is not what justice is about.
I do not believe the floor of this House is where the rights and wrongs of particular allegations can be settled. Our obligation as legislators is to ensure we have in place appropriate arrangements to deal with these difficult and complex matters.
Now we have new protected disclosure powers and we have increased the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission as well. If it is shown that these processes are not adequate to deal with particular cases that have arisen, then of course I am quite prepared to look at whatever other measures I might properly take to address any concerns. What I cannot do, however, is seek to set aside the procedures we, as legislators, have enshrined in law to deal with these matters. Deputies should appreciate that while certain procedures are ongoing, I am simply not in a position to respond on the floor of the House to particular details which they see fit to disclose. After all, such details relate to protected disclosures, in respect of which there is a solemn obligation on me to respect people's right to confidentiality.
Yesterday, I referred to the sensitivities that arise around whistleblowing and the need to protect persons making allegations, but also the need to respect the rights of those against whom the allegations have been made. Deputy O'Callaghan made the same point this morning. This balance is the same balance that sits at the heart of our justice system. We cannot wish it away, nor should we.
I referred to the need for cultural change as well. In some ways that is as important or even more important than having robust procedures in place. Ultimately, any organisation is no more or less than its people and their attitudes, behaviours and the way they treat others. There will be occasions when whistleblowers are found to be right and occasions when they are found to be wrong. We can see findings of both in the O'Higgins report. The key thing is that whistleblowers are protected and treated with respect. That element takes cultural change as well as changes in policy and law.
A number of issues relating to how victims, in particular, female victims, were dealt with are covered in the O'Higgins report as well as the issues that arise in that regard in terms of Garda training. That is being prioritised by the Garda Commissioner at present.
A range of other points were made but I do not have the time to respond to them in detail. Since I am out of time I regret that I cannot respond to more of the points made. However, I assure the House that my focus now is on the failings that were identified in respect of victims, the treatment of whistleblowers, and ensuring the improvements we need to see in An Garda Síochána are carried through.