Charleton Tribunal: Head of HR in Gardai told "we are going after him [Maurice McCabe] in the Commission"

Update 4pm: The head of Human Resources in the Gardaí has told the Disclosures Tribunal that his boss Cyril Dunne said: “We’re going after him in the Commission” in relation to Maurice McCabe.

John Barrett said he was shocked and dismayed at the comment, but did not realise its significance until later.

Counsel for the Tribunal has said Cyril Dunne is certain he never uttered the phrase.

Mr Barrett was engaged in what he described as a "cottage industry of activity" in seeking to improve Maurice McCabe’s working conditions in Mullingar.

He says he was at a meeting with the Chief Administrative Officer on other matters when Cyril Dunne asked him to stay back and said to him: "We're going after him in the Commission" in reference to Maurice McCabe.

Mr Barrett said he indicated his shock and display that such an approach would be taken in the O’Higgins Commision, and said he may have used an expletive.

While Mr Barrett thinks the comment was made on the eve of the Commission on May 13 2015, he has no note to show this is the case.

He says he did not realise the significance of the comment until a week or 10 days later when he was aware of contentious issues arising at the Commission.

The Disclosures Tribunal is examining whether the former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan relied on inappropriate grounds to discredit Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Inquiry.

Earlier: Nóirín O'Sullivan 'had not questioned Sgt McCabe's integrity,' says Frances Fitzgerald

Former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has told the Charleton Tribunal that then garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan assured her she had never accused garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe of malice or questioned his integrity.

In its current module, the tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the former garda commissioner to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins commission.

The commission, which sat in private in 2015, investigated complaints made by Sgt McCabe about certain policing matters and about serious allegations against senior officers including former garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

Ms Fitzgerald said when she received the report of the commission in May 2016, she thought it was a balanced report, and "hoped it would be the basis for resolving the issues that had arisen."

Media leaks about the private hearings shortly after the report was published meant that "suddenly there was a whole other stream of information".

It was difficult to place it in context as Judge O'Higgins had not made any reference to or "direct comment about the behaviour down at the commission" in his report, Ms Fitzgerald said.

"What I had to go on was a report I had got from Judge O'Higgins," Ms Fitzgerald said. "Obviously they were in the public arena so I had to respond as much as I could to the various allegations that were arising."

Ms Fitzgerald and her officials met with the garda commissioner, and Ms O'Sullivan "said at that point she wanted the truth to emerge at the commission and obviously she wanted to cooperate fully with the commission," Ms Fitzgerald said.

"She [Ms O'Sullivan] made it clear she had not questioned Sgt McCabe's integrity and had never accused him of malice, and she wanted to treat all witnesses equally," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was "getting as clear an explanation as I could because it was a matter of public concern" at the meeting with the commissioner on 19 May 2016.

The former minister said she had clear legal advice from the Attorney General that she should not release the garda commissioner's legal advice, as it would set a bad precedent.

Commissioner O'Sullivan had forwarded to the minister advice she had received from her legal team in 2015 with a note that it could be published in the Dáil if the minister wished.

"I wanted to put as much information as I could on the public record within the legal constraints," Ms Fitzgerald.

Ms Fitzgerald said there was a "consistent message and approach" that the O'Higgins commission was self-contained and the judge would deal with any issue that arose there.

"The O'Higgins commission was separate. It would be inappropriate and perhaps legally questionable as well to have got involved with it," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was not aware her deputy secretary general Ken O'Leary had spoken to the garda commissioner on the day a legal row broke out at the commission over instructions to the garda team, until she learned about it from the tribunal.

Mr O'Leary told the tribunal that he informed the garda commissioner that her legal approach at the O'Higgins commission was not something the department or minister could have any involvement in.

Ms Fitzgerald said this was consistent with what she was saying about non-interference.

Ms Fitzgerald said she received a briefing about possible questions about the O'Higgins commission that she might be asked in a planned 'RTE this Week' interview in July 2015, but the issue was not raised when the interview took place.

Ms Fitzgerald said she did not realise that emails she sent to her secretary general Noel Waters had a typo in his email address until he gave evidence at the tribunal, and when she asked her staff to search for bounced error messages in the Oireachtas email system, they could not find any.

She said that normally if an email bounced back undelivered it would be re-sent.

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