Speech by Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin TD – Dáil Statements on the O’Higgins Report

Published on: 25 May 2016


I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important report. From the outset it is important to point out that there was a cynical, selective leaking of the document before its belated publication.

Such efforts to colour and dominate the debate around the findings of the Commission are deeply unhelpful and threaten to undermine the lessons to be learnt from the report. Spin can never replace substance.

Selective leaking of transcripts of evidence given before the Commission caused a public debate about issues that were not addressed in the report itself.

I note today’s statement from the Commissioner confirming that “An Garda Siochana legal team was not at any stage instructed to impugn the integrity of Sergeant Maurice McCabe or to take a case that he was acting maliciously”.

It was important that the Commissioner addressed the allegations that were made in the public interest.

In her statement the Commissioner has also referenced the two senior officers who interviewed Sergeant McCabe in Mullingar in 2008 and she has “requested the Minister for Justice pursuant to her powers within the Garda Siochana Act to refer those aspects to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for the purpose of investigating it in the public interest”.

It would appear that if Sergeant McCabe had not produced his tape of the Mullingar interview the outcome of this Commission report might have been very different. This is not acceptable and should be investigated.

The contents of the Commission report raises issue of the upmost concern to every citizen and also to the victims of crime.

The Report also makes recommendations on victim impact statements. Even though there is a right to furnish a victim impact statement in all courts it is not always availed of in practice.

The Commission rightly recommends that “a victim impact statement where relevant should be furnished in all courts”. The Commission also recommends that Directive 2012/29/EU dealing with the rights of victims be implemented as soon as possible. This should be possible if there is all party agreement to introduce same in the interest of our citizens.

There is no more important or fundamental role for the state than the protection of its citizens. The people depend on the Garda Siochána to feel safe in their communities and to uphold the rule of law.

We all recognise that the Gardaí have endured dark and difficult days, standing against profound threats to our state.

On a daily basis they face immense personal risk. 88 Gardaí have given their lives in the line of duty. Their work and sacrifice is the cornerstone of a safe and secure society.

That is why it is so important for the national parliament to hold the force to account and ensure we achieve and maintain the highest possible standards.

The O’Higgins Commission report raises concerns that need to be addressed to secure that goal. The report is 362 pages long and its contents are quite shocking.

Its establishment was recommended by the Guerin Report and I believe the Commission of Inquiry was very necessary as there were too many accusations and too many attempts to sweep very serious issues under the carpet. This report vindicates the central recommendation of the Guerin report.

The administration of justice has been assailed by a series of controversies since 2014.There has been deep frustration amongst ordinary rank and file Gardaí, as they are demoralised by the onslaught of cut backs and a series of revelations and issues.

I am also very worried that the cultural change needed in the Gardaí to deal with whistle-blowers or in fact any staff member that highlights the need for change is too slow and in some cases non-existent. This has to rapidly change.

It is vital that we draw on the lessons contained in this report to renew and re-build the central role our police force plays in our communities. The Gardaí need to be allocated proper resources and given proper training to do this. There is an urgent need to improve morale.

This report is one of many in the last few years. It cannot be condemned to the administrative gulag of the top shelf.

At the heart of this Commission of Investigation are a number of serious cases that range from savage attacks to a brutal murder.

These cases altered lives, devastated families and damaged communities. Behind this voluminous report there are victims still struggling to patch the torn fabric of their lives back together.

We owe it to them to ensure the recommendations of the report are fully implemented.

The victims need to receive more supports to deal with what has happened them. Our debate on this matter should not lose sight of that or descend to petty point scoring.

How we respond to the tragic impact these cases have had on the victims and their families will be the ultimate measure of our success in dealing with this report.

In early 2014 I was approached by Sgt. Maurice McCabe with a dossier chronicling a series of fundamental problems in the Bailieborough district. The scale and depth of the issues raised pointed towards systemic malpractice in the area.

I found Sgt.McCabe to be a decent, honourable and reliable witness. On that basis I raised the issue here on the floor of the House.

I submitted papers to the Taoiseach so that Sergeant McCabes concerns and allegations could be properly investigated.

This was not a partisan political attack or crude, agenda driven stunt. It was due diligence and the responsible thing to do.

The detail covered in the Commission’s report over some ten chapters illustrates the gravity of the difficulties in the Cavan/Monaghan division. Policing in the area was critically undermined by a myriad of errors and inactions.

There is a list of a cocktail of poor to non-existent supervisory structures, over reliance on probationary Gardaí and lack of communication with victims leading to profound failures.

These led to crimes not being properly investigated and led to one criminal murdering Sylvia Roche Kelly as his previous crimes were not recorded or communicated properly to other Gardaí and to the courts.

The frequency and seriousness of the endemic problems uncovered vindicates the recommendations of the Guerin report in May 2014 to establish a formal Commission of Investigation.

The lessons to be drawn from the Commission extend beyond the geographic area it covers. The entire force must ensure the faults, misconduct and failure of performance charted in this report does not occur again.

Furthermore the Commission’s findings underline the staunch reliability of Sgt.McCabe.

Explicitly the report finds that he “impressed the commission as being never less than truthful in his evidence” is a “dedicated and committed member of An Garda Síochána” and that “he has brought to public attention certain investigations where the public was not well served”.

It should be noted for the record of the House that the report finds he “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.”

We must always remember that dissent is not disloyalty. Sgt.McCabe had the common good at heart in his actions. He has endured a turbulent personal period in pursuit of what he believed was right.

His dogged commitment to uncovering the corrosive practices that were eroding the integrity of the force in his area has set a precedent.

His example is one that will be seen by whistle-blowers elsewhere, not simply in the force, but in industries and sectors across the country.

The internal attempts to show that Sergeant McCabe was an untrustworthy character had no basis.

There were sinister efforts to pin the blame of several problems in Bailieborough such as the missing computer in the Fr.Molloy case on Sergeant McCabe .These attempts were rightly exposed in the report and GSOC investigation.

These type of petty and damaging accusations can send a clear and chilling message to whistle-blowers that they will be systematically targeted and undermined.

This cannot be tolerated in any workplace but in particularly in the Garda Siochana where they have the responsibility to uphold the law.

Against that backdrop support and backing by the hierarchy is vital in facilitating whistle-blowers calling out problems in their organisation.

This is why the chasm between the private and public accounts matter. In the Commissioners statement today it is confirmed that there is a Protected Disclosure Manager appointed within the Gardaí and this is to be welcomed as it will protect other whistle-blowers within the force and ensure that they are not targeted like Sergeant McCabe was.

The Commissioner also confirms that there will be a dedicated team who will be appropriately trained to oversee all matters relating to whistle-blowers. This will hopefully help to lead to the much needed culture change within the force.

Efforts to reform and improve the Gardaí are dependent on the Commissioners strong, committed leadership. In the absence of that, moves towards a culture shift will fall on barren ground.

We need real transparency on this issue in order to drive on reform.

Media reports over the weekend pointing out other prominent examples of whistle blowers in the force further highlight what is at stake. The sheer weight of the claims involved strikes at the core of the operations of An Garda Siochána.

It is critical to the long term integrity of the force that whistle-blowers are facilitated and their claims fully and fairly investigated.

We cannot allow future whistle-blowers to be intimidated by the prospect of a methodical, comprehensive effort to undermine their character.

I believe the Commissioner is capable of delivering on that and continuing to take the lead on reform.

This is a febrile period for reform in An Garda Siochána. There have been some 41 separate reports into the force in the last decade. Within these there are almost 800 recommendations.

The establishment of the Policing Authority in January of this year represents a fundamental shift in the governance of the force.

It offers a mechanism and opportunity to help bolster public trust in the Gardaí and revitalise its structures and personnel.

There has been much progress but we cannot afford to allow reform fatigue to set in. There remain serious challenges to overcome.

The O’Higgins report and its recommendations present a fresh set of measures that we need to implement.

The murderous tit for tat feud consuming the inner city over the past 100 days is a sad reminder of the intensity of the criminal threat. The unprecedented barrage of violence and its devastating repercussions are inflicting a deep, irrevocable scar on the community.

An Garda Siochána is a rampart standing against that violent, corrosive criminality. We need it to stand strong.

The programme for Government, drawing on the Minority Government arrangement with Fianna Fail, contains an explicit commitment to ramp up Garda numbers to 15,000.

We must ensure that those new recruits and existing personnel are given the support, management structures and resources needed to meet their duty.

An Garda Siochána is on the cusp of fundamental change. The O’Higgins report forms part of that process.

It will demand real commitment and drive from the Government, the Minister for Justice and the Commissioner.

Fianna Fáil will support that progress to help ensure An Garda Siochána are equipped and empowered to rise to the challenges of serving the community.

The issue or remuneration cannot be ignored and it is accepted by all parties that entry levels of pay for the Gardaí are too low and the sooner the Public Sector Pay Commission is set up to address this issue the better.

One of the recommendations in the Commission report is that “a review be undertaken on the terms and conditions applicable to the role of Sergeant in charge to adequately reflect the responsibility of the role”. This should also be done as soon as possible so that the same mistakes are not made again.

The integrity of the force demands relentless vigilance. The security of the state and the safety of our communities are founded upon it.

I hope that this report plays its part in that vigilance

Go raibh maith agat.

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