Nóirín O’Sullivan tells tribunal she was ’absolutely committed to supporting’ Maurice McCabe

By Gerard Cunningham

Former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has told the Charleton tribunal that she contacted garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe in 2014 to tell him that she was absolutely committed to supporting him in the workplace.

The tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by then commissioner O’Sullivan to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission. The commission was set up in 2015 to investigate matters relating to policing in the Cavan/Monaghan Division.

The former commissioner said that she hoped that the commission would "establish the facts and get to the truth" of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about garda shortcomings in the Cavan-Monaghan district. She had appointed Chief Supt Fergus Healy to act as her liaison with the commission.

Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

"I would have given a general instruction to Chief Supt Healy that what we were trying to do was to get to the truth of the matter," she said. "I wanted to know the nature and extent of what we were dealing with here and get to the crux of the matter."

Ms O’Sullivan said that on her appointment as interim acting garda commissioner one of her first acts was to restore Sgt McCabe’s access to the Garda PULSE computer system.

She said it was important for An Garda Siochana to have "democratic legitimacy", and trust and confidence in the force "had plummeted to an all-time low of 67%". The force was "punch drunk from being pilloried" in the media and other places, she said.

Sgt McCabe had experienced workplace issues in Mullingar which he reported, and after she appeared at an Oireachtas hearing, the commissioner arranged to meet with him in August 2014.

"I took it upon myself to make contact directly with Sgt McCabe in an attempt to address his issues. In that conversation I reiterated I was absolutely committed to supporting him in the workplace," Ms O’Sullivan said. A second meeting with the sergeant took place in February 2015.

Garda Seargent Maurice McCabe arrives to hear former Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan give evidence. Photo: Niall Carson /PA Wire

The former commissioner also said that it was an "imperative" was to "make sure we were supporting people who had the courage to speak up in the workplace and were whistleblowers. I was setting the tone from the top."

Whistleblowers "may not always be right, but they were right to come forward with their issues," she said. She was eager that issues raised by Sgt McCabe "would be addressed in an open and transparent way and would be addressed as speedily as possible."

By the time the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation began hearings, the commissioner was dealing with Sgt McCabe "on three fronts", as an employee, dealing with workplace issues in Mullingar, as a whistleblower who had made a protected disclosure, and as a witness at the commission of investigation.

Ms O’Sullivan said that garda delays in responding to the O’Higgins inquiry were due to capacity issues and not mistakes in the force.

Former Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan arrives to give evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal/ Photo: Niall Carson /PA Wire

The tribunal heard of delays by An Garda Siochana in producing documents for discovery and setting up a legal team as the Commission prepared for its first hearings in Spring 2015.

"Things weren’t done in time for the commission," tribunal barrister Ms Kathleen Leader said.

"I don’t regard it as a mistake. It was unsatisfactory. None of this was a satisfactory state of affairs," Ms O’Sullivan said.

She said that at the time the force was dealing not just with the O’Higgins inquiry, but with several other inquiries and investigations. In addition to her role as garda commissioner, she was also performing the duties of two deputy commissioners, and there was a shortage of chief superintendents and superintendents.

"I think it was just a capacity issue rather than a mistake," Ms O’Sullivan told the tribunal.

 

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