Did a garda commissioner maliciously describe one of his officers as a kiddie fiddler?
That’s a kiddie fiddler as in a child abuser, a criminal prone to preying on the most vulnerable and destroying lives?
If so, did this leader of the police force make such a groundless allegation in order to prevent the investigation of a corrupt practice by senior gardaí that was having a detrimental effect on road safety?
These are the kind of questions Judge Peter Charleton will have to ponder when he writes his report on the Disclosures Tribunal.
Yesterday, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness gave evidence which amounted to affirmative answers to the questions posed above. His evidence is hotly disputed by retired garda commissioner Martin Callinan but, over the coming days, others are expected to echo the substance of Mr McGuinness’s claims.
Mr McGuinness’s allegations were known for nearly two years, but he has added some detail.
The former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) got to know Sergeant Maurice McCabe in late 2013, as the PAC was investigating the Cavan-based sergeant’s claims about abuse of the penalty points system.
On January 23, 2014, Mr Callinan appeared before the PAC. At one point, he declared that he found the actions of Sgt McCabe and former garda John Wilson to be “disgusting”. It was a remark that sent Mr Callinan down a road which would lead to his premature retirement.
Yesterday, Mr McGuinness recalled that he had approached Mr Callinan in the immediate aftermath of the PAC meeting to thank him for his appearance. As he came into the commissioner’s orbit, the latter began relating a story about Mr Wilson.
Many years before, Mr Wilson had been called to an incident involving a Traveller on a horse in Dublin’s Grafton St. The garda noted that the animal was being abused.
In evidence, Mr McGuinness said that this was relayed to him by Mr Callinan, specifically in the following terms:
“He [Mr Wilson] pulled the knacker off the horse and got on the horse, rode it back to the barracks, and tied it to the railing of the barracks,” he said.
Then he made a reference to Sgt McCabe:
If the TD is to be believed, the then garda commissioner referred to a minority grouping in a derogatory manner and branded one of his own officers as a child abuser. Mr Callinan denies that he said these things.
Later in the day, it emerged that Mr Wilson had commandeered a horse in 1983, a year after he joined the force. Judge Charleton noted that there was nothing negative about the story.
“Sometimes it’s easier to ride a horse than to lead a horse,” he said. He did accept that it was allegedly uttered in an attempt to portray Mr Wilson as “a bit of a fruitcake”.
The allegation against McCabe was of a different order entirely. If found to be a fact, it would amount to a serving garda commissioner maliciously briefing politicians with false allegations of child abuse against a garda whistleblower.
Mr Callinan denies saying anything of the sort. Later yesterday, the tribunal was told that Superintendent Dave Taylor, who has a major role in the current module, will give evidence that he was there that day and heard Mr Callinan using the term “kiddie fiddler”.
In any event, Mr McGuinness also alleges that, the following day, he met Mr Callinan in a highly unusual meeting in a carpark on the Naas Road outside Dublin. Here, Mr Callinan was allegedly more specific, according to Mr McGuinness.
This was a reference to Mr McGuinness’s intent to bring Sgt McCabe to give evidence before the PAC.
Mr Callinan denies this as well. A succession of stories and episodes involving garda malpractice in recent years has left many inured to garda scandals.
However, if it was ever found as fact that there was substance to the allegations being made against the commissioner of the day it would amount to nothing less than disgusting.
There is no room in the conflicting accounts for misstatements, misremembering, confusion, interpretation, or even poor hearing. This is not a case of somebody getting the wrong end of the stick.
Either the garda commissioner said these things or he didn’t. Either a long-standing politician or a former garda commissioner is giving an untruthful account to a statutory inquiry.
Mr McGuinness repeatedly stated yesterday that he was there to tell the truth. Martin Callinan’s statement gives an entirely different account and he is expected to hotly dispute McGuinness when he gives evidence.
Mr McGuinness’s evidence continues tomorrow. He will be followed in the witness box by Fine Gael TD John Deasy. He stated in 2017 that he had been briefed negatively by a senior garda about Sgt McCabe around the time of the contentious PAC meeting.
He is expected to reveal the identity of the senior garda tomorrow. After him, the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy will give evidence.
He has provided a statement to the tribunal about what Mr Callinan said to him on the day of the PAC meeting.
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