Ex-minister: My driver warned me about McCabe

Former communications minister Pat Rabbitte has said his retired garda driver told him of rumours on the Garda “grapevine” about Maurice McCabe, including that he could not be trusted with children.

He said the conversation happened after he spoke of Sgt McCabe’s “good character” on RTÉ and the driver collected him and warned that the whistleblower could not be trusted.

The claims by the former Labour TD were made at the Disclosures Tribunal, which is investigating if there was a smear campaign in the force against Sgt McCabe.

Mr Rabbitte said he first met Sgt McCabe in 2007 when the garda relayed concerns about policing in the Bailieborough district, Cavan. He said he found Sgt McCabe to be “a very conscientious policeman” who was concerned about disciplinary issues in his district.

Mr Rabbitte was interviewed on an RTÉ show in February 2014 about Sgt McCabe when concerns about abuses of the force’s penalty points system arose.

Mr Rabbitte said he “attested to the good character” of the whistleblower on air and was collected after the programme by his then driver, retired garda John Kennedy.

Mr Rabbitte told the tribunal the driver, who had used for three years, spoke to him about the interview. He wanted to warn him, said the former TD, about “wading into the controversy” when there were “rumours” on “the grapevine” suggesting Sgt McCabe “may not be a man of character”.

The driver allegedly said Sgt McCabe could not be trusted and that his own colleagues from the force had said he “could not be trusted with children”.

Mr Rabbitte elaborated that the driver said he was not in the business of spreading the rumour, but he was alerting him that he should be careful about testifying to his character, given what was being said in the Garda network. Mr Rabbitte said ultimately he thought the rumours were “foul gossip” and “didn’t give it legs”.

Mr Kennedy denied making the remarks and said he had not listened to the RTÉ show at the time. The former garda also said he had minimal contact with former colleagues, maybe only at Christmas for a few pints or an occasional game of golf.

Mr Rabbitte said he was not aware of rumours in Leinster House at the time around Sgt McCabe and had been “forcibly hit” by his driver’s warning. Asked about his driver’s denial, he said: “It is a difficulty with Mr Kennedy’s memory.”

Mr Rabbitte said at the time he did not discuss the claims with anyone else for fear of spreading them, but that he mentioned the exchange with Mr Kennedy to his private ministerial office.

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who was on the Public Accounts Committee in 2014, told the tribunal there were rumours going around Leinster House that the Garda whistleblowers were “odd”.

Mr Murphy said it was “quite obvious that what people were trying to do was to discredit their evidence because it was uncomfortable evidence”.

He said he was not aware that PAC chairman John McGuinness had a carpark meeting with former garda commissioner Martin Callinan about Sgt McCabe until the TD spoke about it in the Dáil two years later.

At the time in 2014, Mr Murphy said he had concerns around PAC’s role in penalty points scandal.

He said he spoke to Leo Varadkar, then minister for transport, by phone who was “frustrated” that Sgt McCabe’s claims were not being taken seriously.

The housing minister also said Mr Varadkar told him: “He put the case that this person needs to be heard.”

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