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Motion re establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry

Statement by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, TD

Dáil Éireann

16 February 2017




I move the resolution before the House.

The Government has this morning approved draft Resolutions to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry. The Resolutions, which accompany this statement, must now be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Terms of Reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry are comprehensive and clear in their focus.

Mr Justice Charleton will chair the Tribunal and is available to begin work this week. And I thank him for taking on this role.

There has been much debate and discussion in this House about the best way to establish the truth in these matters.

I want to thank the Members for their genuine engagement to identify the key issues that should be included.

What is now proposed reflects those discussions and the information put into the public domain last week.

These Terms of Reference will establish a public Tribunal of Inquiry get to the truth. That is in the interests of whistleblowers, it is in the interests of members of An Garda Síochána, particularly those against whom allegations have been made, and it is in the public interest.

What is required is that the issue of how whistleblowers in An Garda Síochána have been treated is examined independently, fairly and publicly.

For the first time we will hear in public all sides of the story. I have said to this House before that it would be wrong to try to remedy one injustice, by creating another one. Everyone has basic human rights and it would be a cruel irony if our beliefs about the appalling treatment of some, led to the ill-treatment of others. Hearing the other side is a basic requirement of fair procedure.

I will now turn to the terms of reference themselves.

The Tribunal will, of course, look at the matters originally recommended by Mr Justice O'Neill. I am, of course, in Mr Justice O'Neill's debt and I want to thank Mr Justice Charleton too for his willingness to serve as the Tribunal.

The terms of reference now contain specific references to the contacts there were between Gardaí and TUSLA, and the Health Service Executive and other agencies in relation to Sgt McCabe

While allegations which were put into the public domain in relation to Garda Keith Harrison about TUSLA were different, nevertheless, because of concerns expressed to me, I have included contacts between Gardaí and TUSLA specifically in the first module

And, in the light of specific concerns which have arisen, the Tribunal will look at whether there is a pattern in relation to TUSLA files and their use to discredit Garda whistleblowers

The Tribunal will now also look at certain matters relating to the O'Higgins Commission.

It will also look at whether senior members of An Garda Síochána attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Sgt McCabe of criminal misconduct.

There has been a lot of debate as to whether we should look at how other Gardaí who made protected disclosures have been treated. I am providing for a new module which will allow the Tribunal to look at these cases in the context of action to target or discredit Gardaí who had made protected disclosures.

GSOC will continue its work in relation to complaints outside of these.

There is a provision that Mr Justice Charleton may consult with me, if another judge may be needed to deal with the second module. The priority will be dealing with the issues arising in the first module

And we are specifically providing that the Tribunal can look at contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and any other relevant person that the Tribunal may deem necessary. This would include members of the Oireachtas.

I know Mr Justice Charleton is anxious to commence his work immediately and determined to carry it our as expeditiously as possible. Once the resolution is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas today I intend to make the necessary statutory instrument so his work can start immediately. And that work will report to this Dáil.

I look forward to the recommendations Mr Justice Charleton will make. I look forward to the truth.

We have already made extensive reforms in relation to An Garda Síochána. The reality is that more cultural change is needed in An Garda Síochána.

Reform can never stop.

We will now also have the benefit of advice from an international independent policing expert.

I want to make it clear that this work will complement the work the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate.

I want to refer to the 6 questions contained in the McCabe's statement relating to An Garda Síochána which they understandably want answers to now. I, of course, want to facilitate them as much as possible. But I do not want to pretend to the House that this matter is completely straightforward in circumstances where a Tribunal is being established. Having consulted with the Attorney General, the Secretary General of my Department has written to the Garda Commissioner in accordance with section 40 of the Garda Síochána Act, requesting the information sought in the 6 questions. I expect that it will be necessary to consult further with the Attorney General once the Commissioner has replied.

To conclude I want to say that our actions here today will ensure any wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána will be addressed fully and fairly.

I have been careful and scrupulous to deal with all the cases that have come to my attention. I have always made the case – publically and privately – that whistleblowers should be protected and supported.

This Tribunal will ensure justice, for Sgt McCabe, his family and all parties involved.

I commend this resolution to the House and I am sure all members of the House will join with me in wishing Mr Justice Charleton well in his task of great importance.