Friday, July 22, 2022

Paul Neilan

A report from the Disclosures Tribunal investigating the claims of a retired garda sergeant, who says he was told by a superior officer to “cover up” the alleged sexual abuse of a child where the suspect was allegedly connected to senior gardaí, is expected to be completed before the end of the year after evidence concluded on Friday.

The tribunal is investigating the claims of Paul Barry, who says he was targeted by superiors after he made a protected disclosure over the handling of an alleged child sexual assault in Co Cork in 2012.

On Friday at Dublin Castle, chairman Mr Justice Sean Ryan heard the final oral submissions in the tribunal’s investigation into the claims of Mr Barry, who made a protected disclosure in October 2012.

Mr Barry, formerly of Mitchelstown Garda station in Co Cork, made a complaint that the proper investigation of the child sexual assault allegation was prevented by Superintendent Michael Comyns, who he says also bullied and harassed him.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) later directed there be no prosecution of the child sexual assault allegation.

The former sergeant claims the investigation found that one of the alleged suspects was connected to two senior gardaí, former Supt John Quilter and then Chief Supt Anthony Quilter, the tribunal also heard.

After a criminal investigation, in November 2015 the DPP directed there be no prosecution relating to Mr Barry’s claim that Supt Comyns had perverted the course of justice, due to a lack of evidence.

The tribunal heard that Supt Comyns, who denies allegations of bullying and targeting Mr Barry, has described the complaints as “unfounded and vexatious”.

After an internal Garda investigation, the bullying and harassment complaints were not upheld by investigators.

‘Towing the line’

Mr Barry says he was being punished by superiors for not “towing the line” and further alleges that subsequent investigations into other protected disclosures also amounted to a “perversion of the course of justice”.

Mr Barry had told Diarmaid McGuinnes SC, for the tribunal, that he took up duty in Mitchelstown in January 2000 until June 2016 when he retired on a pension.

Mr Barry first made his complaints through a bullying and harassment Garda procedure on October 2nd, 2012, making his first protected disclosure the same day.

In all, Mr Barry complained of eight incidents regarding Supt Comyns.

Mr Barry said Supt Comyns was appointed in July 2010 to the Fermoy Garda district and he “never had such difficulty with a superintendent.”

“Since day one, I felt he had something against me,” Mr Barry told Mr McGuinness.

Mr Barry reported as unfit for duty on August 6th, 2012, due to what he says was work-related stress.

Mr Barry told the tribunal he was forced to return to work on March 29th, 2013, against the advice of his GP.

He has told the tribunal he returned to work for financial reasons as he was on half-pay due to the length of the leave – 239 days in total.

Complaints

In his statement, Mr Barry said he felt he was being “deliberately targeted” by management in this regard and to “punish me financially”.

Mr Barry also complained of his work-related stress not being investigated, of being pressured by management to transfer stations, of implied criticism of his report regarding a fatal fire, of an inquiry made by Garda management to his GP, and of being denied leave days.

All of Mr Barry’s claims have been denied by the members involved.

At the tribunal on Friday, Shane Costelloe SC, for Mr Barry, said that lengthy and extensive written submissions had been furnished to the tribunal on behalf of his client.

Mr Costelloe said all the legal teams, except the legal team for Supt Comyns, agreed that Mr Barry’s complaints could be treated as protected disclosures and that complaints made prior to October 2nd, 2012 could be put before the tribunal.

He said the complaints made by Mr Barry before October 2nd, 2012, showed the state of mind of the other parties involved in the tribunal.

Mr Costelloe said it is the “express” assertion of An Garda Síochána that Mr Barry had been “re-positioning” himself during the tribunal regarding his possible transfer out of Mitchelstown Garda station, which he said was not the case.

He said Mr Barry gave evidence that he was willing to move to solve matters, contrary to claims by An Garda Síochána, but that he would only move at public expense and had told this to Inspector Tony O’Sullivan.

‘Flagrant disregard’

Counsel said garda witnesses had said their investigations into Sgt Barry’s claims had been frustrated by Mr Barry’s refusal to co-operate. However, it was Mr Barry’s claim that he would have co-operated had a member outside his district been appointed to do so.

Mr Costelloe said senior gardaí showed “flagrant disregard” for Mr Barry’s medical certificate, which “everyone knew about”, adding that his client was being victimised by the attempted transfer of him away from Mitchelstown Garda station.

The barrister said temporary workplace accommodation arrangements had been recommended by Mr Barry’s GP, but they were never implemented by Mr Barry’s superiors even though they were “well capable” of doing so.

Dr Margaret Anne Kiely had written a medical certificate saying Mr Barry was capable of returning to work, but that he should not come in contact with Supt Comyns nor attend Fermoy Garda station where Supt Comyns, Mr Barry’s district officer, was based.

Insp O’Sullivan later called to Dr Kiely’s surgery to make sure the letter was legitimate in attaching the condition of not attending Fermoy Garda station, which she described as “unnerving”.

Insp O’Sullivan said there was no suggestion that the letter had been forged by Mr Barry.

John Fitzgerald SC, for the Garda Commissioner, said superiors in the force had tried to make a “very high level of engagement” with Mr Barry in what was a “local difficulty” and that the level of correspondence addressed that effort.

Mr Fitzgerald said no criticism was accepted by the commissioner in what was a “difficult situation where all parties were trying to do their best”.

He said the issue was whether or not the efforts made by a wide number of members of the force to accommodate Mr Barry amounted to targeting him.

He said that there was nothing in the paperwork which showed “any evidence of a plan” to do so.

Belief alone is not evidence

Mr Fitzgerald said that Mr Barry “believed” there was an intent to target him but that “belief alone is not evidence”, adding that his difficulties with Supt Comyns began in 2010, two years before Mr Barry made his protected disclosure.

The barrister said correspondence between Supt Comyns and Chief Supt Gerard Dillane showed “the opposite of collusion” against Mr Barry, in that Supt Comyns did not want Mr Barry transferred to his district of Fermoy, but Chief Supt Dillane ordered the transfer anyway.

Mr Fitzgerald said that on a separate matter, Supt Comyns had been criticised by Chief Supt Dillane regarding a late report coming from Mitchelstown, but Supt Comyns had not himself complained of any targeting about the matter.

“Criticism is not targeting,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

Mark Harty SC, for Supt Comyns, said that in a personal injury claim, Mr Barry claimed he suffered “detriment” due to the alleged behaviour of his client towards Mr Barry, but that for Mr Barry’s case to be correct this detriment would have begun in 2010, two years before the disclosure, when Supt Comyns moved to the Fermoy district.

Mr Harty said Supt Comyns would therefore have had to have known that Mr Barry was going to make a disclosure two years in advance.

“Simply because it is a grievance, it does not mean it is a protected disclosure,” Mr Harty said.

Mr Justice Ryan complimented all parties on their “very professional” conduct during the tribunal and then concluded the oral hearings, saying he hoped he would have his report prepared before the end of the year.

The tribunal has sat for 16 days in all, having begun on May 17th.

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