Helen McEntee refuses to comment on garda commissioner criticism

The garda took the bike from a garda station to give it to a farmer who lived in rural area to use during one of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee
Justice Minister Helen McEntee Justice Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

Helen McEntee has refused to comment on criticism of the garda commissioner after he said the public did “not know the full story” about a garda who faced a lengthy disciplinary investigation for loaning a bicycle to a farmer.

The solicitor representing the garda, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, said that Drew Harris needs to explain his comments made to an Oireachtas committee on Thursday.

The garda, who has not been named, was restored to full duties on Thursday after a four-year disciplinary and criminal investigation into the alleged theft of a bike. He was cleared of all wrongdoing.

The garda took the bike from a garda station to give it to a farmer who lived in rural area to use during one of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, Mr Harris told the Public Accounts Committee that the public did not know the full story.

“The case is finished, the difficulty I have in respect of talking about this is that there is only partial information (that) has been put into the public domain,” Mr Harris told the committee.

“I am supplying all of the information, both to the Police Authority and to the minister.

“I am reluctant to engage in the detail of this because a lot of detail is not in the public domain.”

Senior counsel Damien Tansey told RTE he will write to Mr Harris to raise his concerns, adding that the garda was “extremely upset” by the comments.

The Minister for Justice refused to comment on the investigation and the comments made by Mr Harris, saying it was a “disciplinary matter”.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment,” she added.

“We have a significant number of cases that are … and have been public in recent days so I won’t comment on any of them.

“What I would say is that I believe that we can have a more efficient and more effective disciplinary process and that is what we’re working on at the moment following the completion of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill.

“There are a number of regulations being developed, conduct and disciplinary regulations, and I hope to have them agreed, working with the commissioner and his team, by the summer.

“But my role here is making sure that the system that we have is efficient and effective and I believe come the summer we will have a more efficient and effective system.”

She added: “Firstly, irrespective of what the outcome is, irrespective of what the particular matter was based on, I won’t, nor should I ever, comment on a disciplinary matter or any other type of situation where the gardai have responsibility for this.

“My role here is making sure that the structure and the process works and that it’s fit for purpose.

“I think in a lot of instances, it goes on for too long. I think what people need is certainty on both sides. That’s why I hope the new regulations that we’re working through will provide that certainty.

“It’s similar to the change that’s happening with GSOC (Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission). A lot of the challenge there is that situations are going on for far too long and people don’t have certainty and it’s impacting on a lot of people.

“We will have new structures in place for GSCO as well to make sure that it’s a quicker process. My role here is making sure the system works and what the outcome is obviously that’s a separate matter.”

Mr Tansey told RTE: “The member (garda) was fully exonerated at the end of an exhaustive four-day inquiry, he was fully vindicated.

“Five charges were levelled against him and he was cleared of all of those charges.

“To hear that the garda commissioner suggests that there was something perhaps blameworthy that is not in the public arena, the member will be seeking clarification in relation to that matter from the commissioner.

“I will be contacting the commissioner immediately.”

He described Mr Harris’ comments as “extraordinary”.