Garda Commissioner must do more than withdraw ‘disgusting’ comments
TI Ireland also calls on Data Protection Commissioner to clarify public statement on Garda audit and remarks made to RTE today.
Transparency International Ireland (TI Ireland) has welcomed recent calls by Government Ministers, including the Tánaiste, for the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw remarks he made in January describing the actions of Sgt Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson as ‘disgusting’. However, it urges the Commissioner to go further by thanking the two whistleblowers for exposing widespread abuse of the Garda PULSE system, and by restoring Sgt McCabe’s right to use the Garda database without prior authorisation from a senior officer. *
TI Ireland has said that the recent statement issued by the Gardaí that the Commissioner’s comment was directed at the release of personal data into the public domain appears to be inconsistent with what was said to the Public Accounts Committee on 23 January 2014. During questioning from Committee member, Shane Ross TD, on 23 January, the Commissioner said:
‘I do respect the notion that gardaí, in certain circumstances, should not be investigating one another. That is why we have the ombudsman commission to deal with those cases. Clearly, here, however, we have two people, out of a force of over 13,000, who are making extraordinary and serious allegations. There is not a whisper anywhere else or from any other member of the Garda Síochána, however, about this corruption, malpractice and other charges levelled against their fellow officers. Frankly, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting’.
Mary Lou MacDonald TD, then asked the Commissioner to clarify his remarks and said ‘The Commissioner described their behaviour as disgusting. It is a strong thing to say that they have carried themselves in a manner that is disgusting’.
The Commissioner replied:
‘Correct. In the context of the manner in which they decided to pursue what they are pursuing, that is definitely something that I cannot accept at any level’.
‘Commissioner Callinan’s comments could easily be interpreted as a deliberate and public attack on the motives, judgement and character of two members of An Garda Síochána. They could also incite mistreatment of a serving member of An Garda Síochána. Coupled with the continued restrictions on Sgt McCabe’s use of the Pulse system, it reflects very poorly on the Commissioner’s commitment to fair treatment of whistleblowers. If he is not prepared to offer leadership on this issue and unequivocal public support to Garda whistleblowers including Sgt McCabe, then the Commissioner should consider his position’, said John Devitt, Chief Executive of TI Ireland.
‘At no time when justifying his use of the word ‘disgusting’ to describe the actions of Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson did the Commissioner refer to the release of personal data to the public. It is also worth noting that neither Sgt McCabe nor former Garda Wilson released personal data to the public. Instead they brought it to the attention of the Garda Confidential Recipient, members of the Oireachtas and public bodies – including the Data Protection Commissioner’, added Mr Devitt.
Earlier today, TI Ireland wrote to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, Mr Billy Hawkes, to clarify criticism of whistleblowers during an interview with RTE News and reasons for the publication of a press release today complimenting An Garda Síochána for their data protection controls.
TI Ireland understands that the Data Protection Commissioner has no role or remit to criticise individual public servants. It also asked Mr Hawkes’ whether the Data Protection Commissioner’s office has published its opinion and findings of previous audits that showed compliance with the Data Protection Act; whether Commissioner Hawkes has publicly criticised other identifiable employees of data controllers in the past; and the justification for having done so today.
TI Ireland called on the Data Protection Commissioner to issue a statement making it clear that at no time did either whistleblower share personal data with members of the public, that they did not access PULSE in respect of this matter after Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney's investigation was launched and that neither men were in breach of the Data Protection Act in using PULSE data to report concerns of malpractice in the administration of PULSE.
TI Ireland would also like to extend its best wishes to former Garda Wilson who was recently diagnosed with a serious illness and offers its support to his family.
*Contrary to a Garda press statement last week, Sgt McCabe can only access the Garda Pulse system with prior authorisation from a Garda Inspector based in his district. If the Garda Inspector cannot be contacted, Sgt McCabe is not authorised to access the database. ‘A Garda trainee would have more access to the Pulse system than Sgt McCabe. The restriction is unwarranted and is a form of penalisation’.
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