02 January 2006

Revealed: the man at centre of secrecy row

Irish Independent

Tribunal wants the name of this whistleblowing lawyer - but he's already given it to them

Brian McDonald

THE identity of the mystery informant on Garda corruption can be revealed today by the Irish Independent.

Top criminal lawyer, Martin Giblin, passed information on corruption in Donegal to former Health Minister Brendan Howlin, leading to the establishment of the Morris Tribunal.

Mr Howlin has protected his source for more than five years while the tribunal pursued him through the courts in an attempt to uncover the identity.

But, in a bizarre twist, it now emerges that much of this effort was unnecessary.

The Irish Independent has learned that Mr Giblin went voluntarily to the tribunal more than two years ago to say he was the mystery source.

Mr Giblin's statement to the Morris Tribunal, outlining his contact with the former Labour Party deputy leader, has since been passed to the Garda.

It is not clear why lawyers for the tribunal have continued their pursuit of Mr Howlin through the courts - other than to confirm what they already know.

On December 20, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Howlin could no longer withhold his phone records from June 25, 2000 - the date he received information in a phone call with his source.

Mr Howlin said afterwards that his source had passed on the information on the basis that his anonymity would be protected. He stressed that in two subsequent conversations the position of his source had remained unchanged.

But he pointed out that the Supreme Court had fully accepted that he had acted properly in giving the information to the Minister for Justice, rather than simply standing up in the Dail where any statement would have been covered by absolute privilege.

Mr Giblin is the senior counsel who has represented the McBrearty family from the time Frank McBrearty Jr and his cousin Mark McConnell were wrongly arrested and falsely identified as the main suspects in the so-called "murder" of cattle dealer Richie Barron. He could not be contacted yesterday and is thought to be out of the country.

The quietly-spoken lawyer is understood to have worked for the McBrearty family throughout most of their nine-year battle for justice without payment because of his belief in their innocence.

He led the negotiations in the €1.5m settlement of Frank McBrearty Junior's High Court action against the State last September.

Dublin-based Mr Giblin is regarded as an authority on the criminal law and conducts much of his business at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. He also travels regularly as a defence lawyer to represent clients in criminal courts in the provinces.

The identity of the source of Mr Howlin's information in June 2000 has been the cause of massive speculation.

The allegations made in the telephone call with Mr Howlin were to the effect that the Carty Investigation was compromised by dealings between two senior gardai and a garda under investigation.

Similar allegations were faxed to Fine Gael TD Jim Higgins.

Mr Howlin has repeatedly refused to disclose the identity of the person who passed on this information, most notably refusing an order of the Morris Tribunal in 2003 to reveal his source, by way of disclosing critical documents.

Both Mr Howlin and Mr Higgins took High Court proceedings challenging orders of discovery for the documents made against them by the tribunal.

The case involving Mr Higgins was resolved when the source of his information, Frank McBrearty Senior, agreed to be identified.

Last year the High Court quashed the tribunal's order for discovery against Mr Howlin, but this ruling was appealed by the tribunal to the Supreme Court.

Five days before Christmas the Supreme Court reversed the decision, clearing the way for the Morris Tribunal to compel Eircom to hand over Mr Howlin's phone records.

As the tribunal already knows the date the Labour Party deputy received the information (June 25, 2000), it would readily be able to identify his source.

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