herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Ahern wants to clear his name in Sargent probe

FALLOUT: Inquiry will divert garda resources from gangland crimes

THE Justice Minister has admitted that an investigation into how the Herald revealed Trevor Sargent correspondence with gardai is largely about clearing his name.

Dermot Ahern reiterated his highly unusual commitment yesterday to publish details of a heavy-handed garda investigation which is trying to expose the source of the leak.

Former Green Party leader Trevor Sargent was forced to resign his ministry last week after this newspaper revealed that he had written to gardai in an attempt to have a summons dropped.

Mr Sargent had told gardai that the decision to pursue a case against one of his constituents was "wholly inappropriate" but, within hours of the Herald story, resigned and admitted that he may have acted unlawfully himself.

But his colleague in the Department of Justice is determined to seek to find the whistleblower, a move which may prevent other whistleblowers from releasing information.

Dermot Ahern's inquiry is set to divert resources away from major crime investigations and will involve senior officers who are normally tasked with analysing offences such as gangland activity, rape, kidnapping, child abuse and murder.

It will involve Garda Chief Supt Michael Finn, who is currently overseeing two garda divisions in Cork, and Garda Det Supt John McMahon, from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI).

Admitted

But yesterday Mr Ahern admitted that the motivation behind the inquiry is political.

Speaking on RTE's This Week, he said: "I think the Garda Commissioner knows that, particularly in relation to the political aspects and the accusations that were made against various people, I know he knows that it is important that be dealt with one way or the other."

In the aftermath of the Herald story, opposition parties accused Fianna Fail and the minister of leaking the damning information in retaliation for the Green Party forcing Defence Minister Willie O'Dea to resign days earlier.

Mr Ahern also said he will publish the report in order to clear Fianna Fail, despite the fact the Green Party has publicly ruled out the notion that the Sargent story was a payback.

"I know there are some people out there who believe I shouldn't have made this commitment, but I believe that in the context of the political row that it is important to publish that report," said Mr Ahern.

He added: "And obviously if there is anyone who committed an offence that is a matter for the gardai and the DPP to decide."

The Herald journalists involved in the Sargent story and this newspaper have decided not to co-operate with the investigation in any form.

The minister has refused to put a time limit on the inquiry, which will take place at the same time as more than 50 gang-related murders remain unsolved.

kdoyle@herald.ie

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