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A Commission of Investigation is the only real option – Adams

26 February, 2014 - by Gerry Adams TD


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD set out Sinn Féin’s analysis and proposals on the GSOC/Whistleblowers/McCabe dossier scandals in a lengthy speech to the Dáil this morning.

Below is an edited version of the main points and the full text of his remarks.

Deputy Gerry Adams:
•On this issue the Minister has failed miserably. What each of these scandals has demonstrated is an unhealthy close relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner.
•Each scandal has highlighted an inability on the Minister's behalf to properly address the serious issues which have emerged for the justice system and An Garda Síochána.
•This runs in marked contrast to the rhetoric from the Government about ending cronyism and the need for transparency and accountability.
•On each occasion, the Minister's first instinct has been to circle the wagons around the Garda Commissioner and other senior Gardaí rather than seek to get to the bottom of the various allegations without fear or favour.
•We believe that the cumulative effect of these scandals and in particular the Minister's handling of them amount to an issue more serious than the position of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is clearly now a matter of confidence in the administration of justice and policing and a high degree of confidence is necessary at public level among citizens.
•The Government appointed retired judge, John Cooke, to carry out a review of the various bits and pieces around. I wish him well but it is our considered opinion that the review under Mr. Justice Cooke is not sufficient. It falls far short of what is required to get to the bottom of this issue.
•I am from the North and I know what bad policing is. I lived in a police state for most of my adult life and I am proud to have played a small part in changing that. We need to have a situation where politicians get out of policing matters. Such matters should be administered in an accountable and fully independent way.
•In this case, the Minister should have backed out of it. He should have brought in the type of investigation that is allowed under the Commissions of Investigation Act.
•In respect of the McCabe dossier Gerry Adams said: These allegations may be totally and absolutely unfounded. I do not know and we have refrained from making any comment on that. Some of us have been on the receiving end of totally unfounded allegations for a very long time. However, these allegations were not new to the Minister for Justice and Equality. Indeed, the allegation is that he has known about them for two years.
•Yesterday, the Government announced the appointment of a barrister to examine the claims contained in the dossier. Yet again, in my view, that is not enough. I have listened to what the Taoiseach said yesterday and I thought he performed well in terms of how he outlined all this. This, however, is all in marked contrast to the mandate the Government was given when it was elected.
•Last week, I wrote to the Taoiseach asking him to come into the Dáil to make a statement on all these issues. As usual, the Oireachtas was bypassed by the Government. I was able to read about what was going to happen in the Chamber in Monday morning's newspapers.
•The Government's focus is on trying to manage public opinion on these issues.
•I was not surprised, therefore, when the Minister did not apologise because I knew in advance, as a result of reports in this morning's newspapers and on television last night, that he had no intention of doing so. That is one way of doing business but it is not real politics. It is the politics of spin and throwing shapes as opposed to that of making fundamental changes to the conditions in which people live and to the institutions and protocols by which we are governed.
•Any charge those in government have levelled at the individuals who preceded them in office is mirrored by the way in which they have gone about dealing with this issue. Even though the allegations that have been made are serious, grave and hugely devastating for the families and others involved, it is the way the Government has responded to them which has caused the crisis in confidence. It is clear - at least for now - that the Government is putting the Minister's interests above that of public confidence. I regularly find myself asking what on earth Labour is doing in government. I just do not know what is its function in the current Administration.
•The only credible and acceptable way to achieve clarity in respect of this chaotic episode and to bring it to a conclusion is through the establishment of an independent inquiry under the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004.
•I do not understand why the Taoiseach did not come before the House yesterday in order to announce an independent inquiry. Had he done so, he would have shown leadership and removed this matter from the realms of both party politics and politics in general.
•The way the Government has dealt with this matter is representative of that same old way of doing things. It is also part of the same old culture which those in government pledged to get rid of.
•That brings me to its treatment of brave people who have come forward. I refer to those who have identified that something is wrong, who have pursued all the proper and legal ways of resolving matters and who want a light to be shone on the various issues about which they are concerned. The people in question are not used to the focus of the media being upon them and neither are they used to public scrutiny. Their families are certainly not used to reading about them in newspapers. It takes very strong individuals to travel the obstacle course that has been erected. I commend those involved in this instance on doing that.
•The case for establishing an independent inquiry into the bugging scandal, which may or may not be a matter of substance, and the claims relating to the dossier presented by Sergeant Maurice McCabe under the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004 is unanswerable. During his lengthy contribution, the Minister failed to provide one credible reason as to why an inquiry under the Act should not take place. Yesterday, the Taoiseach also failed to provide a single good reason in this regard.
•In respect of the confidential recipient Mr. Adams said: We are now faced with the bizarre situation whereby, as a result of what he said about the Minister, Mr. Oliver Connolly's head has been the only one to roll in the aftermath of this series of scandals. The Minister did not utter one word about that matter during his contribution. He unilaterally sacked the man whom he saw fit to appoint to the position of confidential recipient.
•The evidence of the Government's performance is that there is little interest in effective systems of oversight or governance.
•Our Oireachtas team is not fazed by the Minister's arrogance and we will continue to hold him to account, I hope, in a fair, but robust and reasonable way. We support the essential role of An Garda Síochána. We have a commitment and we commend the commitment of the overwhelming majority of Gardaí who uphold the law and who look after all of us every day.
•Without seeking to draw any comparisons between the Garda Síochána and the old discredited RUC, it is clear that fundamental change is needed in the administration of policing and justice in this part of Ireland as well. It is very obvious there needs to be a clear separation of Government from the Garda Síochána.
•No police service, no senior police officer and no Garda Commissioner should be accountable to a politician no matter who that is. It does not matter whether it is Dermot Ahern or Deputy Alan Shatter or Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The citizens deserve a policing service which is overseen by an independent authority. The Garda Commissioner should be fully accountable to that authority, as should joint policing committees, and all of that should be accountable to the Oireachtas.
•Sinn Féin will soon publish its Garda Síochána (amendment) Bill 2014 and we will present our vision for change and our solution to the problems so evident over the past 18 months…
•This has been the Minister's greatest failure. He is not a stupid person. It is not the allegations of misconduct by some Gardaí that has eroded public confidence, it is his and the Government's failure to deal with these matters properly, fairly and in a transparent way. The Minister is bound to know that.

February 26th 2014

The full text of Gerry Adams remarks:

Deputy Gerry Adams: While I disagree with the Minister for Justice and Equality on many political and ideological issues, I respect the reforming focus he has brought to the necessary eradication of many outdated and inappropriate social anomalies in our system that work to the disadvantage of citizens. I wish to state as much clearly on the record.

However, on this issue the Minister has failed miserably. What each of these scandals has demonstrated is an unhealthy close relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner. Each scandal has highlighted an inability on the Minister's behalf to properly address the serious issues which have emerged for the justice system and An Garda Síochána. This runs in marked contrast to the rhetoric from the Government about ending cronyism and the need for transparency and accountability. On each occasion, the Minister's first instinct has been to circle the wagons around the Garda Commissioner and other senior Gardaí rather than seek to get to the bottom of the various allegations without fear or favour.

Sinn Féin has come to these issues in a robust manner but we have come to them in a more measured way than our colleagues in Fianna Fáil. We believe that the cumulative effect of these scandals and in particular the Minister's handling of them amount to an issue more serious than the position of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is clearly now a matter of confidence in the administration of justice and policing and a high degree of confidence is necessary at public level among citizens.

The first of these scandals came under the Minister's watch when it was revealed that two Garda whistleblowers, John Wilson and Sergeant Maurice McCabe, approached Deputy Clare Daly with their concerns regarding the quashing of penalty points by senior gardaí. In early 2012, the two whistleblowers brought their concerns to the then Garda confidential recipient, Oliver Connolly. After months of apparent stonewalling they decided to take their allegations and evidence to the Road Safety Authority, the Comptroller and Auditor General, various Departments and Ministers and an Teachta Daly. Then, in a move which has been the hallmark of the Minister's tenure, he attacked the complainants. In a television interview he made disgraceful allegations about an Teachta Mick Wallace which clearly came from the Garda Commissioner. As pressure mounted in the Oireachtas, the Minister then settled for an internal Garda inquiry into the issue to be carried out by assistant commissioner John O'Mahoney. After the report of this investigation, which was published in May of last year, the Minister sought to minimise concern about the implementation of the penalty points system by the Garda. He even went onto the plinth to attack the two whistleblowers in a scurrilous effort to undermine their credibility. The Minister would later, wrongly and disgracefully, accuse the Garda whistleblowers of not co-operating with the investigation. He has yet to correct the public record in that regard and he has failed to do so again today.

Not unreasonably, Sergeant Maurice McCabe has asked that if he did not co-operate with the O'Mahony report, why did that report not mention this? Why did the Minister, Deputy Shatter, not say so when he spoke after the report was published? Why was Sergeant Maurice McCabe not disciplined? Why did Assistant Commissioner O'Mahony's team contact and interview numerous officers all over the State, yet ignore Sergeant McCabe?

The O'Mahony report has since been discredited with the publication late last year of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which found that one in five motorists charged with traffic offences in this State were escaping points, that half of all summonses relating to traffic offences were not actually served, and that in some Garda districts there was a penalty points termination rate 50 times higher than in others.

That report led to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts which was given a number of boxes of documents from the two whistleblowers backing up their allegations. A very defensive, and many would say a very arrogant, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan gave evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts. He went as far as saying that the actions of the two whistleblowers were disgusting. These gardaí are mandated, trained and paid to uphold the law and report allegations of law-breaking, yet active efforts were made to prevent them from reporting what they believed were breaches of the law. Who is preventing them? It is the Garda Commissioner supported by the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, sought to prevent Sergeant Maurice McCabe from providing evidence on the matter. Indeed, it appeared likely that he would initiate court action to prevent that. In my humble opinion, I think that is what forced the change, as the Minister was moved to proceed with some sort of review of all these matters, which in my view and that of my party Sinn Féin, is inadequate.

As all of this was unravelling, the revelation came that there was a suspicion of illegal surveillance and bugging at the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. Once again, the Minister's instinct was to seek to put GSOC in the dock. The Taoiseach went on to misrepresent the Garda Síochána Act when he claimed that GSOC had not fulfilled its legal requirements, that GSOC was a law-breaker. He repeated that despite me and others here questioning him until finally he was forced to admit his mistake. The Minister then summoned the GSOC chairman to his office to explain why the Minister and senior members of the Garda Síochána were not informed about GSOC's suspicions. The Minister is too smart. He knows that GSOC is not answerable to him but to the Oireachtas. However, by sending for the chairman he actively undermined the independence and integrity of that agency. That agency's responsibility is to police the police. It is not that the police are bad but we know to our cost that, human nature being as it is, accountability is necessary in all associations, organisations and institutions.

Having spoken to the GSOC chairman, the Minister told the Dáil there was nothing there and nothing to see. We then discovered that what the Minister had reported to the Dáil had sizeable omissions from what was sent to him in a written report. Subsequently, on the RTE "Prime Time" programme, Mr. Kieran FitzGerald of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, said that while there may be no definitive evidence of surveillance at the offices, he could not entirely rule it out. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, Mr. FitzGerald said he suspected there may have been some form of surveillance carried out in their offices. Later on, it emerged that the security sweeps of the GSOC offices were carried out after it appeared that a senior garda - it is believed by sections of the media that this was indeed the Commissioner - had accessed confidential information about a case which was being investigated by GSOC. Layer upon layer has been added to this story day after day.

Following repeated calls by Sinn Féin and others for a fully independent inquiry into the bugging scandal, the Government did a partial about-turn a full ten days after the scandal first emerged. Interestingly enough, it was after the publication of Sinn Féin's Private Members' business motion calling for an independent inquiry. The Government appointed retired judge, John Cooke, to carry out a review of the various bits and pieces around. I wish him well but it is our considered opinion that the review under Mr. Justice Cooke is not sufficient. It falls far short of what is required to get to the bottom of this issue.

I am from the North and I know what bad policing is. I lived in a police state for most of my adult life and I am proud to have played a small part in changing that. We need to have a situation where politicians get out of policing matters. Such matters should be administered in an accountable and fully independent way.

In this case, the Minister should have backed out of it. He should have brought in the type of investigation that is allowed under the Commissions of Investigation Act. The Minister set the terms of reference for Mr. Justice Cooke but the Minister is already at the centre of this entire controversy. He put himself in there, although no one forced him into it. The Minister has already asserted that there was no evidence at all that GSOC was the target of a surveillance operation.

In the latest episode of an increasingly worrying saga for members of the public, last week a dossier from the Garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, was given to the Taoiseach by the Fianna Fáil leader. That was the right thing to do, as has been recorded. The dossier contained very serious allegations of Garda malpractice.

These allegations may be totally and absolutely unfounded. I do not know and we have refrained from making any comment on that. Some of us have been on the receiving end of totally unfounded allegations for a very long time. However, these allegations were not new to the Minister for Justice and Equality. Indeed, the allegation is that he has known about them for two years.

Yesterday, the Government announced the appointment of a barrister to examine the claims contained in the dossier. Yet again, in my view, that is not enough. I have listened to what the Taoiseach said yesterday and I thought he performed well in terms of how he outlined all this. This, however, is all in marked contrast to the mandate the Government was given when it was elected.

Last week, I wrote to the Taoiseach asking him to come into the Dáil to make a statement on all these issues. As usual, the Oireachtas was bypassed by the Government. I was able to read about what was going to happen in the Chamber in Monday morning's newspapers. I was able to read what the Minister was going to say, and the general tenor of his approach, in last night's news and in this morning's newspapers.

As I said to the Taoiseach yesterday, if the Minister was not going to hand this over to an independent agency to examine it under the terms of reference which are already set up, he should have come in to this House to talk these issues out, listen to what the Opposition and other Deputies may have had to say and then come up with a position. However, we have been hit with a fait accompli. We were simply told that a senior counsel is going to do a scoping exercise, so the mandate of everyone here amounts to nothing. The Government's focus is on trying to manage public opinion on these issues.

I was not surprised, therefore, when the Minister did not apologise because I knew in advance, as a result of reports in this morning's newspapers and on television last night, that he had no intention of doing so. That is one way of doing business but it is not real politics. It is the politics of spin and throwing shapes as opposed to that of making fundamental changes to the conditions in which people live and to the institutions and protocols by which we are governed.

I am sure members of the public are fatigued as a result of hearing about the events surrounding this matter over a protracted period. People's mortgages are in distress, their children are in the United States or elsewhere working, some have children in hospital and others cannot gain access to services for their aged parents as a result of the crisis in the area of health. When our parliamentary party meets, I ask my colleagues where the matters under discussion rate among people's concerns. Despite the fact that the other issues I referred to are obviously part of the daily grind for many citizens, there is no doubt that those under discussion also matter to them.

In the past five or six years people have learned a great deal about how this State has been run. They respect public servants, including the vast majority of members of An Garda Síochána. However, they also look to Governments to set matters right. Any charge those in government have levelled at the individuals who preceded them in office is mirrored by the way in which they have gone about dealing with this issue. Even though the allegations that have been made are serious, grave and hugely devastating for the families and others involved, it is the way the Government has responded to them which has caused the crisis in confidence. It is clear - at least for now - that the Government is putting the Minister's interests above that of public confidence. I regularly find myself asking what on earth Labour is doing in government. I just do not know what is its function in the current Administration.

The reaction to the events surrounding the GSOC scandal and the penalty points affair has been entirely insufficient. The decision to appoint a barrister to review these matters is not good enough either. The only credible and acceptable way to achieve clarity in respect of this chaotic episode and to bring it to a conclusion is through the establishment of an independent inquiry under the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister will not facilitate such an inquiry. If he is as right as he claims to be in respect of these matters, then why will he not establish an independent commission to investigate them? If he did set up a commission, it would mean that there would be no further tit-for-tat exchanges involving himself and Deputy Martin. It would also mean that this would not continue to be an issue of party political points scoring in this Chamber. In addition, it would not become an issue of contention for the members of An Garda Síochána who are out patrolling and looking after our communities, our families and our security.

I do not understand why the Taoiseach did not come before the House yesterday in order to announce an independent inquiry. Had he done so, he would have shown leadership and removed this matter from the realms of both party politics and politics in general. On numerous occasions I have pointed out that what is happening in this case is symptomatic of a political culture which continues to exist in this State. Corruption does not always involve brown envelopes filled with money. It also involves the way in which people go about their business, cronyism, cosy relationships and operating in a bubble, and not understanding that politics must always be about the empowerment of citizens, upholding their rights and making political conditions better in order that everyone can be treated on the basis of equality. I am of the view that we will find a cure in this regard. The things I refer to are not natural disasters which suddenly came upon us. They are the products of humanity. These are things which we make and which we can unmake. We can certainly make them better if we have the will to do so.

The way the Government has dealt with this matter is representative of that same old way of doing things. It is also part of the same old culture which those in government pledged to get rid of. That brings me to its treatment of brave people who have come forward. I refer to those who have identified that something is wrong, who have pursued all the proper and legal ways of resolving matters and who want a light to be shone on the various issues about which they are concerned. The people in question are not used to the focus of the media being upon them and neither are they used to public scrutiny. Their families are certainly not used to reading about them in newspapers. It takes very strong individuals to travel the obstacle course that has been erected. I commend those involved in this instance on doing that.

The Government may only deal with its only electorate but I am of the view that it will find that widespread concern exists among the members of that electorate. People do not want the same old failed ways of doing politics. The Government is aware of this and that is why the parties which comprise it positioned themselves in the way they did in the most recent general election campaign. They knew that people were tired of the activities of those who had preceded them in government. Equally, people are going to become tired of the way in which the Government is dealing with this matter. They want the Government to deal with issues of this nature in an open, transparent and accountable way. The case for establishing an independent inquiry into the bugging scandal, which may or may not be a matter of substance, and the claims relating to the dossier presented by Sergeant Maurice McCabe under the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004 is unanswerable. During his lengthy contribution, the Minister failed to provide one credible reason as to why an inquiry under the Act should not take place. Yesterday, the Taoiseach also failed to provide a single good reason in this regard. In fact, he opined that such a commission may well be set up because that eventuality is implicit in the context of the senior counsel's remit.

Not long after the Committee of Public Account's hearings on the penalty points scandal, the transcript of a conversation between the confidential recipient, Mr. Oliver Connolly, and Sergeant Maurice McCabe was read into the record of the Dáil. We have all heard it several times. It states: "I tell you something Maurice - and this is just personal advice to you - if Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished." One could not make it up. What prophetic words. We are now faced with the bizarre situation whereby, as a result of what he said about the Minister, Mr. Oliver Connolly's head has been the only one to roll in the aftermath of this series of scandals. The Minister did not utter one word about that matter during his contribution. He unilaterally sacked the man whom he saw fit to appoint to the position of confidential recipient. A public statement was made and it was a case of "Sin é, that's it". The Minister has never advanced any rationale for this decision. Why did he sack Mr. Connolly? What did he do wrong? The Minister is remiss for not even mentioning this matter. If the Government is to have any hope of restoring public confidence in the administration of justice, it must do what we have been advocating. When Deputy Mac Lochlainn has the opportunity to put questions to the Minister on this matter, perhaps he will advance, in a scholarly and appropriate way, the reasons that he has not utilised the legislation.

The evidence of the Government's performance is that there is little interest in effective systems of oversight or governance. The Minister earlier dismissed Sinn Féin's concerns on these issues. I remind the Minister that Sinn Féin's mandate from the citizens we represent here cannot be so easily dismissed. Our Oireachtas team is not fazed by the Minister's arrogance and we will continue to hold him to account, I hope, in a fair, but robust and reasonable way. We support the essential role of An Garda Síochána. We have a commitment and we commend the commitment of the overwhelming majority of gardaí who uphold the law and who look after all of us every day. In the North - a place which may be a foreign place for the Minister - Sinn Féin has worked tirelessly to ensure justice and policing is representative of the policing in the communities it seeks to serve. I was one of the people who was primarily involved in that and I can say that if we had not got an independent police authority, local joint policing committees, and an Ombudsman with real power, policing would not have been embraced. The people in the North who support Sinn Féin are law-abiding people, but we did not have a police service that suited the modern needs of people.

Without seeking to draw any comparisons between the Garda Síochána and the old discredited RUC, it is clear that fundamental change is needed in the administration of policing and justice in this part of Ireland as well. It is very obvious there needs to be a clear separation of Government from the Garda Síochána. No police service, no senior police officer and no Garda Commissioner should be accountable to a politician no matter who that is. It does not matter whether it is Dermot Ahern or Deputy Alan Shatter or Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The citizens deserve a policing service which is overseen by an independent authority. The Garda Commissioner should be fully accountable to that authority, as should joint policing committees, and all of that should be accountable to the Oireachtas.

Sinn Féin will soon publish its Garda Síochána (amendment) Bill 2014 and we will present our vision for change and our solution to the problems so evident over the past 18 months, namely, the penalty points debacle and the failure of senior Garda management to co-operate fully with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. As I have said on previous occasions, out of these dark little periods good can come. I commend this Bill to the Minister. Rather than seeking to resist change - I have recorded my admiration for the Minister's reforming zeal on other issues - I ask him to embrace it. The Minister should be in the vanguard of this change. His first step should have been to establish independent inquiries into GSOC and whistleblower scandals as provided for under the Commissions of Investigation Act. This has been the Minister's greatest failure. He is not a stupid person. It is not the allegations of misconduct by some Gardaí that has eroded public confidence, it is his and the Government's failure to deal with these matters properly, fairly and in a transparent way. The Minister is bound to know that.

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