Charleton Tribunal: Michael McDowell dubs Commissioner's assurances as 'fine HR talk'

Update 5.45pm: Former garda commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has denied she was hypocritical in her dealings with garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe during the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation, writes Gerard Cunningham.

Ms O'Sullivan gave evidence for the second day before the Charleton tribunal, which is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the commissioner to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation into allegations of garda misconduct in the Cavan-Monaghan division.

The tribunal has heard how Sgt McCabe resigned his position as sergeant-in-charge of the traffic division in Mullingar on May 18, 2015, while the garda commissioner's legal team had told the O'Higgins Commission they were instructed to question Sgt McCabe's credibility and motivation in making complaints.

Sgt McCabe told a senior officer he felt "under threat" and "if anything was to go wrong they would be down on him like a ton of bricks".

“I still am at a loss to understand how Sgt McCabe believed that he was under threat from me or how I or we would be down on him like a ton of bricks," Ms O'Sullivan told the tribunal today.

Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan leaves for lunch on her second day giving evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Picture: Leah Farrell/

Michael McDowell SC, cross-examining on behalf of Sgt McCabe, said that on hearing what was said at the O'Higgins Commission, Sgt McCabe might regard the garda commissioner's assurances of support as "fine HR talk."

"It was not nice HR talk, it was not hypocritical, it was not insincere," Ms O'Sullivan said.

The former commissioner said she invested significant time, energy and thought into providing supports for Sgt McCabe in Mullingar throughout 2014.

Ms O'Sullivan said she understood Sgt McCabe's perception of her could have changed as a result of the O'Higgins Commission.

"As commissioner, I had a very delicate balance of the allegations being made by Sgt McCabe and the rights of those persons to be able to respond and have the case against them heard," Ms O'Sullivan said.

She said this meant that she had to challenge and test the evidence of Sgt McCabe before the O'Higgins Commission in order to arrive at the truth.

Ms O'Sullivan said she had not instructed her legal team to challenge Sgt McCabe's integrity, and could not account for what had happened at the commission hearings, as she was not there.

Ms O'Sullivan said she accepted there were "factual inaccuracies" in a letter prepared by her legal team setting out their position which was presented on the third day of evidence at the O'Higgins Commission. But said she understood "the issue was cleared up" by Mr Justice O'Higgins.

Mr McDowell said the letter contained "gross falsehoods". He queried which garda officers had resigned as a result of allegations from Sgt McCabe, as stated in closing submissions to the O'Higgins Commission.

Ms O'Sullivan stated that her predecessor, Martin Callinan, had resigned. Mr McDowell said it was "a dark lie" that Commissioner Callinan resigned because of Sgt McCabe.

Ms O'Sullivan said that allegations of corruption and malpractice were made against Mr Callinan. "Corruption is corruption, it is one of the most gravest allegations that can be made against a police officer," Ms O'Sullivan said.

The tribunal resumes tomorrow when Ms O'Sullivan will give evidence for a third day.

Update 4.32pm: First Garda liaison did not tell me about meeting with Maurice McCabe, says Noirín O'Sullivan

The former Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan has today told the Disclosures Tribunal that she was not aware that the first liaison she had appointed to the O’Higgins Commission had previously investigated whether Maurice McCabe was a risk to children.

Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny had a Tusla file containing a mistake, that Sgt McCabe was referred to Tusla for the rape of a young girl.

The Tribunal has earlier heard this was a cut-and-paste error by a social worker, from another file.

The referral made its way to the Commissioner’s desk, which Noirin O’Sullivan says she never read.

Ms O’Sullivan initially appointed Kieran Kenny to be her liaison at the O’Higgins Inquiry, but says he never told her that he had met with Sgt McCabe to see if he was a threat to children.

Update 2.20pm: Nóirín O’Sullivan says she was very isolated around the publication of the O’Higgins report

The former Garda Commissioner says she was very isolated around the publication of the O’Higgins Commission report and came to be used as a political football.

Nóirín O’Sullivan has told the Disclosures Tribunal that an article in the Irish Examiner highlighting her instructions at the O’Higgins Inquiry to say Maurice McCabe acted out of malice created a vortex around her.

She said she faced repeated calls to step down, and the Minister was constantly asked to state her confidence in the then Commissioner.

Just before the final report from the O’Higgins Commission was released, an article was published in the Irish Examiner which said that the Garda Commissioner introduced the question of malice regarding Maurice McCabe.

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal yesterday.

Nóirín O’Sullivan said the article contained errors, something its author denies - and that it immediately created a vortex around her.

She said she soon became a political football as opposition TDs called for her to step down, and called on the Tánaiste to state her confidence in the Commissioner.

Ms O’Sullivan said this left her very isolated, and she emailed the Tánaiste asking that she state her confidence in her in the Dáil, which Frances Fitzgerald failed to do.

Nóirín O’Sullivan denied this was a statement for the Tánaiste to read in the Dáil – saying it was just a list of facts.

The Tribunal heard of a string of emails between Garda HQ and the Dept of Justice as they sought to prepare a public statement for the Commissioner on the O’Higgins Report, in which NOS said she had to test the evidence of Sgt McCabe.

Cross examination will begin after lunch.

Update: The former Garda Commissioner says she was used as a political football after the O’Higgins Commission report was published.

Nóirín O’Sullivan said an article which appeared in the Irish Examiner raising her legal strategy reharding Maurice McCabe created a vortex.  

She said she was  immediately called on to step down, there were calls on (Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald) to state her confidence in her and this was the narrative in every single bulletin, every single hour.

Nóirín O’Sullivan said she was legally prevented from commenting on the article, and said parts of it were erroneous.

Ms O’Sullivan said she was used from then as a political football – right up until her retirement last year.

Nóirín O’Sullivan has denied being asked to withdraw her instructions to her legal counsel to attack the motivation and credibility of Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

The former Garda Commissioner is giving evidence for the second day at the Disclosures Tribunal.

Ms O’Sullivan was asked about a note taken of a meeting she attended with her counsel that said ‘mala fides’ meaning bad faith – and would the commissioner consider withdrawing?

Counsel for the Tribunal said it seemed coincidental that her barrister backed off from attacking Sgt McCabe’s integrity at the Commission the day after the meeting.

Ms O’Sullivan said it was never the intention to challenge his integrity, and that she was never asked to withdraw anything, nor had she anything to withdraw. 

Earlier: Nóirín O'Sullivan expected back before Disclosures Tribunal today

The former Garda Commissioner is expected back before the Disclosures Tribunal today.

Yesterday Nóirín O’Sullivan said there was never any plan to undermine Maurice McCabe but his evidence to the O’Higgins Commission had to be tested. 

As a result, she was faced with an impossible dilemma.

The Tribunal into the treatment of Garda whistleblowers continues later.

- Digital Desk


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