Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Disclosures Tribunal Report: Statements
It is certainly in stark contrast to this time last year when the rafters of the House were lifted with frenzied indignation on the part of many Senators who are not yet here to discuss the third interim report of the disclosures tribunal but I expect they will attend later.
Any reading of the report leaves us in no doubt that a good member of An Garda Síochána was badly treated by those whose job it was to serve the people of this country, and not serve themselves. The principal finding relates to the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The tribunal has set out in a clear and stark way the ordeal which Sergeant McCabe endured. Many aspects of the report make for very disturbing reading. What shines through at all times in this report is the courage and incredible level of resilience of Maurice McCabe and his loving family. Since the report was published I have spoken with Sergeant McCabe on the phone and, on behalf of the State, I apologised to him and his family for the manner in which he was treated over a prolonged period. He was extremely gracious and accepted that apology in the spirit in which it was offered to him. I intend to meet Sergeant Maurice McCabe in person in the coming weeks and I look forward to those discussions. I know the entire House joins with me in wishing him and his family well. My sincere hope is that Maurice McCabe, his wife Lorraine and their family, can now put this horrendous and prolonged ordeal firmly behind them and get on with their lives. I have no doubt that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has done the State some service and deserves our sincere thanks for that.
While this module of the tribunal addressed Sergeant McCabe’s situation, the report shines a light on many issues and events and contains many important lessons for us all. I propose to look at the report’s main findings and outline the way forward as I see it. I thank Mr. Justice Charleton for the efficient and effective manner in which he conducted this module of the tribunal's business and for the clarity of his report and its conclusions. I also thank Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, the former President of the Court of Appeal, who will take over the work of the tribunal for module two, in relation to the matters covered by paragraph P of its terms of reference. That paragraph covers any gardaí who made protected disclosures and who alleged that they were subsequently targeted or discredited as a result.
To put the matter in context, I will outline briefly the background to the tribunal. The tribunal arose essentially out of two protected disclosures made by Superintendent David Taylor and Sergeant Maurice McCabe to my predecessor as Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, in the autumn of 2016. Those protected disclosures alleged that a campaign was being run by senior gardaí to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe. In general terms, the primary allegations which gave rise to this tribunal related to the alleged use of an entirely false allegation of serious criminal misconduct by Sergeant McCabe and the involvement of Tusla in this regard; allegations that the then Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, sought to use these allegations to discredit Sergeant McCabe at the O'Higgins commission of investigation; and allegations that senior members of the service acted in a manner intended to discredit or traduce Sergeant Maurice McCabe. In relation to these matters, the report's primary conclusions are clear. It is emphatic in its vindication of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. While that vindication may have been a long time coming, it was unequivocal. It states that Sergeant McCabe is a genuine person who was concerned to maintain standards and that he has done the State considerable service by bringing failures within An Garda Síochána to the attention of the wider public. He deserves the gratitude of all of us for bringing these serious shortcomings to public attention.
The report finds that an error made in preparing a report on allegations against Sergeant Maurice McCabe was allowed to remain uncorrected. This was a Tusla issue and will be addressed in due course by my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. No one before the O'Higgins commission of investigation ever accused Sergeant Maurice McCabe of any crime, hinted at it or engaged in any innuendo about it. This is an important finding for the reputation of the former Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, and I will return to this point momentarily.
The tribunal found that both former Commissioner Martin Callinan and Superintendent David Taylor had not been truthful in their evidence. The tribunal accepts the evidence of my predecessor, Deputy Fitzgerald, that she decided not to interfere following an email on 15 May 2015 informing her that an issue had arisen at the commission of investigation. The report emphasises that her response was a considered one. On a personal basis, I want to say that Deputy Fitzgerald is a loss to the Cabinet, to Government and to public service and I do not believe her resignation served any public interest, although it may have served the political interests of some parties. I hope there will be an opportunity to see Deputy Fitzgerald returned to high office in the near future.
I hope Senators will reflect on their contributions to debates inside and outside this House last November. A frenzied rush to judgment on the part of many brought down a good and decent woman. Returning to the tribunal’s central findings, it is also accepted that the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, did not speak with Commissioner O’Sullivan and the tribunal finds that in fact no situation requiring intervention by the Minister occurred before the O’Higgins commission.
A particular allegation was made about my Department’s involvement with those transcripts but the report states clearly that the transcripts provided to the tribunal from the O’Higgins commission of investigation are and always were complete despite unfounded media speculation to the contrary. I would like specifically to mention former Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Former Garda Commissioner O'Sullivan was the subject of a concerted campaign to undermine her position over a period of time, from the leaking of partial and misleading transcripts from the O’Higgins commission right up to the making of the two protected disclosures and even following the establishment of the tribunal itself. While I accept that the Oireachtas has a vital role in ensuring accountability, it is incumbent on all of us as elected representatives not to abuse the responsible positions we hold.
What we expect of others we should also expect of ourselves. During her tenure as Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan was frequently before Oireachtas committees. She was subjected to questions that sometimes crossed the line that divides robust inquiry from personalised attack. In the end these allegations, which have been found by the tribunal to be unsupported by evidence, became more than anyone could reasonably bear, particularly in an extremely pressurised, responsible and visible job such as that of Garda Commissioner. The tribunal did not find any evidence that the former Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was party to the calumny visited upon Sergeant McCabe or indeed any wrongdoing on her part regarding Superintendent Taylor. It is important in all the circumstances that these findings are recorded in the House. As I did on the occasion of her retirement, I thank Commissioner O'Sullivan for her service. I acknowledge wrongs perpetrated against her in this and other Houses, and I wish her and her family well in future endeavours.
While some members of An Garda Síochána are revealed by the tribunal to have behaved in a reprehensible manner, Mr. Justice Charleton also highlights the diligent and professional approach taken by many members of the organisation. As Minister for Justice and Equality this gives me grounds for optimism for the future. The misdeeds of the few should not taint the majority. Mr. Justice Charleton raises the fact that the Oireachtas did not debate his second interim report dealing with terms of reference (n) and (o), regarding complaints made by Garda Keith Harrison. I am sure that Senators will acknowledge that there can be a level of furore regarding a matter giving rise to a tribunal that is seldom matched by in-depth analysis on publication of the report, especially if it makes for uncomfortable reading for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We should not shy away from some degree of self-reflection as a Parliament if we are to ensure the maintenance and preservation of a healthy democracy.
Garda Harrison and his partner, Ms Marisa Simms, alleged that the Garda Síochána at the highest level had prevailed on the HSE to intervene in their family affairs as a consequence of the making of protected disclosures by Garda Harrison. The media coverage of these allegations, when put together with Sergeant McCabe’s experiences with Tusla, opened the appalling vista of the Garda Síochána colluding with the social services to target members who raised issues. Mr. Justice Charleton fully investigated Garda Harrison’s allegations. He finds: "All of the allegations of Garda Keith Harrison and Marisa Simms examined by the tribunal are entirely without any validity." Mr. Justice Charleton goes on to say: "It is appropriate here to exonerate everyone in social services and in policing accused by them of discreditable conduct." His words require no further elucidation on my part.
Let me turn to the future. I very much welcome the Garda Commissioner's initial response to the report last week. I met Commissioner Harris earlier today and I assured him of my support as he addresses the findings in this report. It is clear that there are consequences to be dealt with for individuals and much of that will fall to the Garda Commissioner. It would not be helpful for me to comment directly on these matters at this juncture. I can say, however, that any action required of me or my Department will be followed up speedily and thoroughly. Mr. Justice Charleton also refers to protected disclosures and how they were used in the lead-up to the establishment of the tribunal. I note that he questions in particular if there is a lacuna in the system whereby protected disclosures properly made in accordance with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 are then made available to Members of the Oireachtas and to the media to whom the subjects of the allegations have little or no opportunity to respond. This has created a situation where those accused are practically considered guilty until proven innocent. It is an abuse of an Act introduced to protect genuine whistleblowers from reporting what they reasonably believed to be genuine wrongs. The issue raised by the tribunal merits consideration and I will raise this with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, whose Department has carriage of this legislation.
Mr. Justice Charleton is right when he says that new structures will not of themselves create the culture that will avoid the repetition of bad practice that has been highlighted now in a number of reports on the Garda Síochána. It requires significant cultural change, embedding consistent good practices and conscientious supervision by those in management ranks. An Garda Síochána commissioned an independent organisational culture audit earlier this year, which spoke to many rank-and-file gardaí, and the report also highlights many of the issues addressed by the report of the tribunal. It is imperative that measures are taken by the Garda Commissioner to address the findings of the audit. Furthermore, as the House will be aware, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reported on 18 September. The commission has produced a comprehensive roadmap for the transformation of An Garda Síochána. No more than the disclosures tribunal report, I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in policing to read the commission's report from cover to cover. I am engaged in a consultation process with the Departments and agencies on which the report will have an impact, and I will be returning to Government with a high-level implementation plan before the end of the year.
The report specifically recommends new oversight architecture for policing that defines and separates responsibility for governance, oversight and accountability. It also addresses the critical issue of discipline in An Garda Síochána and, similar to Mr. Justice Charleton’s report, recommends a new disciplinary regime. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, would be replaced by a new complaints body that would handle all complaints against An Garda Síochána that raise serious issues about standards of policing or police integrity itself, such as potential breaches of the law, violation of human rights or corruption, and issues that might indicate a widespread or systemic problem within the police. These measures and others in the report have the potential to break the cycle of controversy that has beset An Garda Síochána for far too long. The implementation plan for the commission’s report will take full account of the issues and recommendations raised in the tribunal report.
To return to where I began, Sergeant Maurice McCabe has done the State a huge service. Mr. Justice Charleton has done likewise, but their service will be for nothing if we do not respond appropriately. I was greatly taken with the set of obligations on gardaí set out towards the end of the report, namely, to take pride in their work and their uniform, to always be honest, to be visible, to be polite, to serve the people of Ireland, to treat the obligation to the public as superior to any false sense that gardaí should stick up for each other, and the obligation of self-analysis. These are simple values - doing the right thing, being honest and decent - but they are fundamental. These are the standards that we should all observe, as public servants, as Members of this House and indeed as human beings, and they are certainly what the public has a right to expect of An Garda Síochána at each and every level.
My Department is engaged in a reflective process in undertaking the fundamental transformation of its structures and processes arising from the first interim report of the effectiveness and renewal group. The second interim report was published yesterday and comments favourably on good progress having been made across the Department. That self-reflection will continue and deepen to take on board the tribunal report. Clearly, there are lessons for An Garda Síochána, for my Department and indeed all public bodies, for the Government, for the Oireachtas and, not least, for the media. A central tenet for all of us is that we must learn how to act more effectively in facing up to and determining the truth of allegations while not making the mistake of treating these as given facts in all circumstances. Above all, we must respond appropriately as a society to those who speak up to highlight a wrong. For my part, I am determined that these lessons must and will be learned and applied.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to outline the issues addressed in the Charleton report. I will not go into the detail but one point seems to have been lost in this discussion of what happened to Sergeant McCabe, his family and the other whistleblowers. The Minister echoed the words of Othello when he described Sergeant McCabe as having done the State some service. To quote another famous speech, if a man stands for a righteous cause, he is stronger than all of the hosts of error. Sergeant McCabe has stood against all of those "hosts of error". What we have forgotten, however, is what he was doing when he was whistleblowing. He was taking on a system that was rigging the penalty points system and he was highlighting that assaults were not being properly investigated. As a consequence, people were driving on our roads who should not have been on the road because they were not given the penalty points they deserved. As the Department is well aware, last year more than 60 drivers involved in serious accidents, including some causing death, should not have been on the road.
Let us step back from what happened to Sergeant McCabe and ask what happened to gardaí who fraudulently manipulated the penalty points system, with the result that people died on our roads. What happened to those whose crimes were not properly investigated and who subsequently committed further assaults? Why did the Garda Síochána allow that to happen? What happened to the gardaí who did not investigate those crimes properly and did not ensure our roads were safe because they failed to issue penalty points? We know what befell Sergeant McCabe. In a letter Sergeant McCabe provided to be read out in the Dáil, he stated they had destroyed him, his career and his family.
The Charleton report referred to the astounding inefficiency and inertia of Tusla and stated that the allegations against Sergeant McCabe took on a life of their own. It found that Sergeant McCabe was a good citizen and a good officer.
The question that arises is related to consequences. We know what happened at a high level to the Garda Commissioners and Ministers for Justice and Equality who resigned as a result of the handling of this case. However, at a fundamental level, there have been no consequences for people who engage in the types of activities Sergeant McCabe highlighted and for which he was isolated within An Garda Síochána.
I welcome the initiatives the Minister is taking on reform. However, as a result of the blood transfusion scandal, the Law Reform Commission proposed 13 years ago that a corporate manslaughter Bill be introduced. Deputy O'Callaghan and I, as well as other Members, introduced corporate manslaughter legislation that reflects exactly the proposals made by the Law Reform Commission. It would mean that an official in the Department of Health or a person working for a blood transfusion service who knowingly allowed contaminated blood products to be issued to women, resulting in death, would go to jail. We would all consider this proposal appropriate, yet the Bill has not been passed. Hundreds of women died needlessly, not through human error but because somebody, whose job was to ensure blood products were safe, sent out blood products in the knowledge that they were not safe. Did this person go to jail? No, he did not. Did he die? No, he did not. Did the people he affected die? They most certainly did. Where is the law to stop that happening again? It is sitting in the Department, which does not want section 3 of the Bill enacted. This section provides that people would be held to account if somebody dies. The Minister is far more qualified than I am in the law. If a garda chose not to allow penalty points to appear on a person's driving record, with the result that the person retained his or her driving licence instead of having it removed, and subsequently that person was responsible for killing someone on the road, should that garda be jailed for corporate manslaughter on the basis that he or she did not do his or her job? The Bill sets a high threshold in that regard, so I am not sure the garda would go to jail.
The reason we are discussing scandals is that there are no consequences for those who do not do their jobs. Sergeant McCabe was trying to do his job as he saw it, and he was correct in what he was doing. However, the system tried to prevent him from doing his job. The people who should have gone to jail and lost their jobs are still members of the Garda Síochána. They are the people who isolated him in his Garda division and felt it was okay to allow penalty points to disappear from the system. They did not investigate serious assaults. The reason people died is that the people who should have investigated certain assaults did not do their job.
We repeatedly hear about systems failure. We expect people to do their job and they should be held accountable when they do not do their jobs. We have not learned the lesson from such a serious and callous episode as that which occurred in the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, as a result of which the Law Reform Commission proposed the introduction of corporate manslaughter legislation. In the Minister's constituency people knew the maternity services in the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise were not working and chose not to highlight this or intervene. Instead, they allowed the problem to continue, which should have had consequences. Tragedies happen and we understand that. The problem with our system is accountability. When somebody does something wrong, a person can resign and walk away with a pension, if in some disgrace. This will keep happening because there are no consequences for those who do not do their jobs as they should.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. It is clear that he is deeply committed to and supportive of the report. I also acknowledge that members of An Garda Síochána put their lives on the line every day and do an excellent job.
It is a rarity in this country that a tribunal completes a substantial part of its work in ten months. In this case, the commission of inquiry also gave the public clear and unambiguous answers to the questions that led to its establishment in the first place. Most of all, however, the fact that Maurice McCabe has been unequivocally vindicated in his relentless pursuit of high standards within the police force and, in the words of Mr. Justice Charleton, "exemplified hard work in his own calling", provides a rare glimmer of hope that the tribunal system can deliver justice from time to time.
This is now the third report in which Maurice McCabe has been vindicated in the substance of the issue he was raising within the force. A tribunal was only required because, again in the words of Mr. Justice Charleton, Sergeant McCabe was "was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer".It was established because of his pursuit of truth and justice. In the words of Charleton, Sergeant Maurice McCabe was subjected to a slanderous campaign of calumny by Commissioner Martin Callinan, actively aided by his press officer, Superintendent David Taylor. What Maurice McCabe endured is possibly one of the most despicable stains on An Garda Síochána from the highest ranked person within the force and no amount of compensation will likely return the lost years and toll that have been imposed on his family.
The loss of ministerial office cannot in any sense be viewed in the same light as what Maurice McCabe has suffered but, equally, the resignations of Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O'Sullivan were brought about in a manner that cannot be ignored. Almost all on the Opposition benches, including me, said that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, had to resign because it was believed, first, that the information she gave the Dáil about her state of knowledge of the legal strategy to undermine Maurice McCabe was untruthful and, second, that she sat idly by while a good man's reputation was being systematically destroyed and undermined in the most vicious manner at the O'Higgins commission.
The third reason, however, which cannot be swept under the rug, is the crazed environment of Leinster House to which the Minister referred, where politics sometimes becomes a blood sport. A head was wanted and those calling for that head were willing to collapse a Government and force an election unless they got one. Sadly, some took satisfaction and even pleasure out of the resignation of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. In their minds, victory was complete even if the quest for the full truth was the casualty. This type of behaviour and politics reflects the same boorish manner in which Commissioner Callinan and Superintendent Taylor operated their public affairs. Is it any wonder that there is so much contempt for politicians in this country? Even when faced with the most serious maladministration within An Garda Síochána, we still found a way to turn it into a game for a political assassination. The tribunal has made it absolutely clear that the actions taken by Frances Fitzgerald in effectively not intervening in the commission's work when she became aware of the legal strategy were fully justified. As Mr. Justice Charleton says, any hint of working things out between the Garda Commissioner and the Department of justice had to be avoided as a matter of ethics.
Ethics should be the driving force in Irish politics and that is the key question we need to address here with respect to Frances Fitzgerald. The tribunal not only found that there were no questions here for Frances Fitzgerald to answer; it also found that the Minister's intervention would have been unethical. Charleton explicitly found that the only appropriate action for one investigative party was not to interfere with the approach of the other investigative party. In other words, the Minister acted appropriately at all times.
There is no going around the fact that the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was taken out, mired in public controversy and yet found to have done nothing wrong in her function as Minister. It is petty in the extreme for any of us involved not to acknowledge the simple fact that the very essence of why we forced her our - her inaction - has proven to be an ethical approach that a Supreme Court justice and tribunal chairman has said ought to have been adopted. Deputy Fitzgerald rose through the ranks from being a Member of this House to being Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Minister for Justice and Equality and Tánaiste. For her career to have been sullied in the way it was mirrors the brutish and bullish culture of Commissioner Callinan and David Taylor which they adopted in their campaign against Maurice McCabe. I want to say to Deputy Fitzgerald that I let my own standards fall when I became part of the frenzy that called for her head. I want to say I am sorry for any hurt I caused her. I am sorry for the hurt to her reputation and to her family. She comes out of this tribunal with her reputation intact. How can we as politicians possibly give leadership and inspire decent public service when our political behaviour is sometimes so far removed from facts and reality but instead feeds the notion that politics is some cynical and gladiatorial battle filled with winners and losers?
Having acknowledged that there were political gains at play in this sorry affair, I must accept that a number of my colleagues in both Houses of the Oireachtas, who have persisted on many matters surrounding wrongdoings in An Garda Síochána, must not be lumped in with the game players. We owe a debt of thanks to those who take wrongdoing in all parts of our society and bring it to this House to ensure the innocent do not suffer. I am speaking of those who championed the McCabe case. I cannot begin to understand the pain caused to the family of Maurice McCabe. I hope the tribunal report gives Maurice and his wife, Lorraine, and their family a new lease of life. I hope they find peace.
I equally hope that this provides the impetus for our new Commissioner, Drew Harris, to drive the cultural reforms that seem to be so badly needed and that we never again see this rotting behaviour at the top of An Garda Síochána. I hope, with much less expectation, that politicians and media alike hit the pause button on the ministerial head-hunting approach to politics the next time a crisis comes around. I hope when the facts do not meet the political reality that it is acknowledged and not simply quashed to ensure nobody loses face.
We owe the McCabes, the O'Sullivans and Deputy Fitzgerald a deep apology. I stand here in all humility today for I was among those in this House that called for the heads of Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O'Sullivan. I am deeply sorry to both of them and I do hope and pray that Deputy Fitzgerald finds high public office again, for she deserves it. I thank the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for taking the time to come here. I know he holds this issue in such high regard that he wanted to be here himself although he could have sent a Minister of State. When he is talking to Deputy Fitzgerald, I ask him to pass on my apologies.
I am sharing time with Senator Buttimer. We will each take four minutes. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. He is a regular visitor and treats the House with the absolute respect it deserves. The people did vote to retain this House and he is one of the few Ministers who actually respects its mandate.
We are here on very important business. I acknowledge the contribution of Senator Craughwell. It takes a fair man to apologise, put his hands up and say he was wrong. He was wrong that time. In fairness to him, he acknowledged it and I salute that. I remember that night last November very well. I was sitting in the same seat as now. As it happened, the Leader of the House was beside me. What we had to listen to that night was just appalling.
Their absence is palpable. They are not here. We have five or six Members out of 60 here tonight. It is a disgrace on them. There was one gentleman who stood up here that night and talked about bullet-proof glass, if I remember correctly, in the Department of Justice and Equality, suggesting that the place was effectively contaminated beyond belief. I have no doubt that there are challenges in the Department of Justice and Equality. There was a report produced which is being implemented by the exceptional Minister who is sitting in front of us. The comments made that night to and in front of Deputy Fitzgerald were breathtaking. They were incredible. What went on was appalling. On such occasions when one is sitting and listening to that sort of thing, however, some people do impress. Senator Boyhan that night was extremely fair to the Minister and Tánaiste. He called for the tribunal to be allowed get on with its business and do its work and let the Tánaiste's future be determined by its recommendations.There were others, not just in this House but in the other House, who were not as fair. I would have had regard for Deputy O'Callaghan but his behaviour at that time was reprehensible. I have yet to hear him apologise and, as a matter of fact, he had the neck to go on "Morning Ireland" the morning after the third report came out. In a cheeky, arrogant way, he defended-----
I will respect the Acting Chairman as he came to apologise. That is worth an awful lot. We can see what went on with other members of the Opposition. There were press conferences on the plinth, for example. It was just appalling. Everyone in unison supported Sergeant Maurice McCabe, which was correct and appropriate.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and I thank him and his officials for being here for this very important debate. I commend the Acting Chairman on his honesty and sincere apology. It is disappointing that Senator Mark Daly in his contribution did not, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, apologise to Deputy Fitzgerald for the wrong his party did to her. I am using this Seanad Chamber to call on the leader of Fianna Fáil and the party's justice spokespersons in the Dáil and Seanad to apologise to Deputy Fitzgerald for the way in which they hounded her out of office. The report called her "selfless", and that is what she was and is. She is a woman of the utmost probity and integrity. Apart from Deputy Fitzgerald, the real victim is Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family, and they must be at the bedrock of our thoughts.
We all welcome the publication of this tribunal's report as it shone a light on the media and the way in which they report and operate. The report is worth reading in its entirety. It is important to recognise, as Senator Conway noted, that the Minister is facing challenges in the Department of Justice and Equality. A cultural change must now begin in the Garda force.
I join the Minister in condemning the way in which the former Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, was treated. It is about ensuring we have fairness and equality in our debate and public discourse. Ironically, the one place with accountability is the political arena, as people can be voted in or out. Nowhere else does that happen to the same degree. It is with that in mind that I make my contribution.
I sit on the policing fora of Cork city and county councils. I see the work being done by An Garda Síochána at a local level and the leadership being given by the Minister and the new Garda Commissioner. I welcome his appointment and I hope he will, in time, address the Seanad as a figure of public importance and outline his vision for An Garda Síochána.
We all want accountability and answers. Sergeant McCabe and his family deserve it. They got some measure of response from the disclosures tribunal, although the report of Mr. Justice Charleton makes for sobering reading. He does not pull any punches. He is very clear and cogent in what he says and what he has reported. It would be best for us all to reflect on that. We must reflect on the political discourse in this Chamber.
The Acting Chairman's remarks, as well as his honesty and sincerity, are refreshing, and I admire him because of that. He spoke about new politics on the Order of Business today, but it is a pity new politics have not been followed by Senator Mark Daly on behalf of Fianna Fáil. I wonder why you did not do it, Senator Daly.
He asked a question. No finding in the report can change the fact that in November 2017, Fianna Fáil and the majority of the Dáil had lost confidence in Deputy Fitzgerald's ability to serve as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality.
I will finish on this. I appreciate the Acting Chairman has just been placed an invidious position. It is disappointing that Members of the House who operated a Star Chamber in November last year have been quiet tonight. It is sad. I have never looked for a political head in my political life and I have always judged issues rather than personality. I welcome the tribunal report and I commend the Minister on his approach.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe has become well known and he is now a household name in Irish society and beyond. He is the person most central in this tribunal. I am sure he wishes it were the case that none of this transpired. Unfortunately, the actions of his superiors meant he was drawn into one of the largest controversies involving An Garda Síochána in its history. He is to be commended on his bravery in the face of such adversity and what appear to be almost insurmountable and deliberately placed obstacles. He has been entirely vindicated by the tribunal findings, which further indicated, quite remarkably, that he was denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer. He was subject to a "campaign of calumny".
These are very strong findings and I thank Mr. Justice Charleton for his sterling work on this tribunal. I wish Mr. Seán Ryan well as he takes his place for the final module. We can all agree that when the allegations made by Sergeant McCabe came into the public domain in 2012, the nation was shocked. A few months later he lifted the lid on the penalty points matter. At this point I also commend Garda John Wilson, who stood by Sergeant McCabe's claims and publicly supported him when the easier route would have been to disappear into the background. They did not commit the sin of silence that makes men cowards. Unfortunately and disgracefully, the response by the institution of An Garda Síochána was not to reflect on these failings, see how they might be resolved and examine the serious breach of what the Garda was supposed to uphold and serve. The people involved circled the wagons before rounding on Sergeant McCabe and treating him as a nuisance to be ignored, marginalised and vilified. Such feelings of disdain were made overt in public by the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, when he went before the Committee of Public Accounts and proceeded to tell it that only two officers from a force of 13,000 were making allegations of wrongdoing and that, on a personal level, he found that quite disgusting.
In May 2016, days after the publication of the O'Higgins report, further leaks revealed that Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan's legal team had a strategy of attacking Sergeant McCabe's motivation and integrity during an inquiry. In June 2016, Tusla wrote to Sergeant McCabe and confirmed that no allegation of digital penetration had been made against him.
I have no problem with that. There is a good deal in the report about Tusla, the allegations of rape, Sergeant McCabe's family, society and its loss of strength of feeling. What Martin Callinan did to try to undermine and discredit Sergeant McCabe was truly disgusting. I could go on about Superintendent Taylor, who is equally damaged by the report. He has internalised guilt for wrongdoing on his part.
It is important that we entrusted Mr. Justice Charleton to make an adjudication of the facts and legal elements of the various related controversies, but it is not for him to adjudicate on the political handling of events and the political response to them. The criticisms of the Government and the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, in the report were not legal but they were political criticisms. The reason the former Minister lost the confidence of the Dáil and the reason a confidence motion was not tabled was well documented at the time. It is a matter of public record that the Taoiseach corrected the Dáil record on numerous occasions in the days leading up to her resignation. I accept the findings of the tribunal, and Deputy Fitzgerald is entitled to point to the fact that she acted truthfully and honestly. The Dáil had been given the wrong story too many times and the political decision was taken to table a motion of no confidence. There was not confidence in the Minister in terms of the way this affair was handled by the Government. However, it was all but a formality. The Government would have lost the vote. That is the political reality and how it works.
I wish Maurice McCabe and his family the best of luck, health and determination in the years ahead.
That is rather a challenge. I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to debate the important report. I say to the Leader that I hope we will have more time to debate it further as we are short of time.
As the Minister has done, I commend Mr. Justice Charleton on his forensic analysis and very clear recommendations and findings in this important report. In the short time available to me, I acknowledge the comments and points made by my colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Sherlock. He made three key points, namely, that Ministers must account fully and accurately to the Dáil, that the tribunal accepted the sworn evidence of all Deputies who gave evidence before it, and that the Policing Authority must be retained for openness and accountability.
I acknowledge also, as the Minister did, the findings of Mr. Justice Charleton in respect of the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and, on a personal note, commend Deputy Fitzgerald on all of her work as Minister for Justice and Equality. Those of us in this House worked very closely with her on many pieces of important legislation such as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences)(Amendment) Bill.
I pay tribute to Maurice McCabe and acknowledge the utter vindication of him by the tribunal report. I note the Minister's apology also and all of us, as public representatives, join him in that.
The findings of the tribunal are very important. It found that Maurice McCabe was an officer of exemplary character who has done the State considerable service.
I acknowledge also that Mr. Justice Charleton greatly praised ordinary rank-and-file gardaí who do a very difficult job, but he was highly critical of the culture in An Garda Síochána and of aspects of Tusla, which as the Minister stated is a matter for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to deal with but which must be highlighted when we see phrases such as "startling inefficiency" and a chaotic failure in senior management in respect of Tusla. That should be acknowledged.
In terms of the report's findings on An Garda Síochána, many of the findings are not new. Those of us who served on the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, including Senator Conway, will be conscious that the Garda Inspectorate made similar findings. The Guerin report, the Morris report and the O'Higgins report made findings in respect of difficulties, problems and flaws within the Garda Síochána culture that have to be addressed.
Some quotes stand out from the Charleton report. On page 295 there is reference to a "cultural shift requiring respect for the truth is needed". That is a shocking thing to say about a policing service. The obligations of the Garda that Mr. Justice Charleton suggests as recommendations also stand out, as they did for the Minister, as he pointed out.
The report notes that structures within the Garda have changed since the Morris tribunal, notably the establishment of a Policing Authority, long sought by my party, to ensure external governance and the passage of the Protected Disclosures Act. The report points out that structures can be put in place readily, but a change of culture is markedly more different and that is what is needed.
I will conclude by referring to two specific recommendations made by Mr. Justice Charleton, on one of which the Minister pointed out he will be taking action, along with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The first is that those of us in the Oireachtas need to consider amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act to ensure it is not abused. The Minister made a very good point on that and the report, at page 299, is very clear on it. We all need to reflect on that.
Second, Deputy Sherlock referred to the impact of the report on the way we implement the recommendations of the O'Toole Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. As Deputy Sherlock stated, the Policing Authority was a very important reform in terms of ensuring external oversight of An Garda Síochána. The report of the O'Toole commission set out a very clear blueprint for overall reform of the Garda Síochána, which is very welcome in that regard. Nonetheless, we need to consider very carefully the recommendations in respect of changes to the governance and management of the Garda Síochána, particularly the report's recommendation that there would be a statutory Garda board to strengthen internal governance and management, along with a new oversight body to be called the policing and community safety oversight commission, which effectively would be a merger of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. I know there is a recommendation from a minority, Dr. Vicky Conway and Dr. Eddie Molloy-----
I will be very brief in concluding. I will finish the point that the minority recommendation expressed concern that the new architecture proposed by the O'Toole commission might not offer the best prospects of achieving the goal of unambiguous, independent, empowered and transparent accountability. We need to reflect on how best to ensure that there is an external oversight body. The Policing Authority was to be that body and I believe is bedding down to be that body. I would be very concerned, and Deputy Sherlock raised this point, that any new architecture would preserve the vitally important principle of an external oversight body which would have power to deal with internal matters too and the ability to examine internal management, including resource management, senior promotions, appointments and so on. As legislators, we need to reflect on how best we can ensure that external oversight is provided for while acknowledging the importance of the recommendations of the O'Toole commission and the major work put into that.
I will conclude on a slightly lighter note. I was delighted to see Mr. Justice Charleton concluding his report with a quote from one of my heroes, namely, the first President of the Czechoslovak Republic, founded 100 years ago this year, Tomáš Masaryk, who said that change comes in small ways through hard work and not just through large, sweeping changes. As Masaryk stated:
Utopianism can be overcome by humble work and through small work. Revolutionism is over, as well.
I believe that was intended by Mr. Justice Charleton to be a call on everyone to engage in the sort of fundamental change in culture that is required in policing in Ireland, which in many ways can be more difficult to do and takes much longer than changing structures.