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Nóirín O'Sullivan denies accusing whistleblower of sex crimes

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan said she refutes "in the strongest terms" a claim that she briefed journalists against a whistleblower within her force

The Republic of Ireland's top police officer has denied telling journalists that a whistleblower was facing sex crime allegations.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was accused, under parliamentary privilege, of making allegations about the whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The claim was made by Irish Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin in the Dáil (Irish parliament) on Wednesday.

Ms O'Sullivan said she was surprised by and refuted Mr Howlin's claim.

High-profile resignations

The case was raised in parliament after the government set up an inquiry into allegations that there was an organised smear campaign to undermine whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force).

The long-running row over how the force treats officers who raise concerns about Garda corruption has already led to high-profile resignations.

Both the former justice minister Alan Shatter and Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor, ex-Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, stepped down from their posts in 2014.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Garda whistleblower controversy has already cost former justice minister Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan their jobs

The controversy began more than three years ago when two whistleblowers - Sgt McCabe and now retired John Wilson - alleged there was widespread corruption with the Republic of Ireland's driving licence penalty points system.

'Disgusting'

They claimed some senior police officers inappropriately wiped the penalty points from the licences of their friends, family members and some well-connected people.

Mr Callinan described the actions of the two whistleblowers as "disgusting" when he was called before a parliamentary committee.

However, when an independent report found their claims had merit and recommended the system be reformed, the police chief resigned.

Mr Callinan was replaced by Ms O'Sullivan in November 2014, but she too has since come under pressure after documents revealed her legal team had been instructed to attack Sgt McCabe's motivation and character when defending his allegations.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe asked Ms O'Sullivan to make a public statement confirming whether or not she had made accusations about him to journalists

Speaking under parliamentary privilege, Mr Howlin said: "This morning a journalist contacted me and told me they had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 in the course of which she made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Sgt Maurice McCabe.

"In 2015, the Garda commissioner oversaw the investigation which examined the call logs of a garda who was under suspicion of leaking material to the media.

"If it were a fact that the Garda commissioner was in direct contact with the media making allegations against one of her officers at around the same time, it would be extraordinary. I do not know whether the charges being made against the Garda commissioner are true."

'Unprecedented step'

Mr Howlin was repeatedly warned by An Ceann Comhairle (the Speaker) Seán Ó Fearghaíl not to make such allegations in the chamber.

"We have a long-standing tradition not to name people outside the house who are not in a position to defend themselves," Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.

After the exchange, Ms O'Sullivan said she "obliged to take the unprecedented step of commenting publicly" because of the seriousness of Mr Howlin's claims.

"The commissioner has no knowledge of the matters referred to by Deputy Howlin and refutes in the strongest terms the suggestion that she has engaged in the conduct alleged against a serving member of An Garda Síochána," she said in a statement.

It added that the public inquiry into the treatment of whistleblowers "will receive the full cooperation of An Garda Síochána and will in due course establish the truth".

'Full support'

The inquiry, known as a Commission of Investigation, will be led by Judge Peter Charleton and the terms of reference were published on Wednesday.

Ms O'Sullivan has resisted calls to step aside while the inquiry takes place.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said "there has been no finding of any wrongdoing of any kind against her and in those circumstances, she is entitled to our full support and that remains the position".

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