herald

Sunday 23 November 2014

If whistleblowers are 'disgusting' why should public give crime tip offs?

AND so the penalty points controversy speeds on.

The matter, which has rumbled away for well over a year, has eventually wound up on the desk of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

It was referred there this week by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who belatedly decided to intervene in the matter and refer corruption allegations to GSOC for investigation.

GSOC will now investigate but to my mind huge damage already been done to the force. And much of this was caused at the Public Accounts Committee hearing into the matter last week.

That hearing, and this issue as a whole, has left me in no doubt that there has been serious reputational damage inflicted on the garda force, both as a result of the allegations and the way they've been handled.

I'd go as far as to say that public trust and confidence in the impartial and fairness of the administration of justice has been undermined.

Let's be clear on the scale of what's alleged here.

Two garda whistleblowers (as they are, under the terms of the 2005 Garda Siochana Act) levelled charges of corruption against a number of senior officers, alleging that these officers quashed penalty points, often for relations, colleagues, friends or high profile personalities.

They allege the points were erased on bogus grounds, which amounted to an illegal practice.

The whistleblowers took their complaints to a number of TDs. The ensuing furore led to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan (inset) appointing a senior officer to investigate the allegations.

This probe found no evidence of criminality, but did find systems failures and breaches of regulations and procedures.

I was one of a number of commentators at the time that publicly expressed grave reservations about the decision to run an internal inquiry.

The whistleblowers obviously believed the same and subsequently took their case to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee.

And so we saw Commissioner Callinan, accompanied by a cohort of senior officers, appear before the PAC last week.

When questioned Callinan robustly dismissed allegations of corruption against his officers and rubbished the claims of the two whistleblowers.

In a comment I considered offensive, Callinan labelled the whistleblowers' actions as "disgusting".

This was an extraordinary and intemperate outburst as, under the terms of the 2005 Garda Siochana Act, the two officers are legally entitled to report incidents which they believe to be illegal and corrupt.

This raises a very important question.

Would this contemptuous attitude encourage members of the public to volunteer confidential information to members of the force, or dial the garda confidential line?

His ill-chosen remarks have, in my opinion, only served to reinforce the stereotypical perception of whistleblowers as informants or 'rats' (though he did not state this himself, of course).

And, as we know, one of the most odious terms in Irish culture remains that of "informer".

But far from their actions being disgusting these two whistleblowers should be supported for having the courage to report what they believe to be malpractice within the force.

It is very telling that one former GSOC member, Conor Brady, last weekend referred to one of the whistleblowers, Sgt Maurice McCabe, as "a man of integrity" whose evidence must be listened to.

I trust GSOC's team will and that these allegations will be fully investigated. Because nothing less than that is needed to restore the force's reputation.

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