Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe’s secret taping of a conversation and RTÉ’s part in the saga raise many issues, writes Michael Clifford
WHERE would you get it? A serving Garda sergeant issuing a press release to dispute statements by the commissioner of the 13,000-strong force. The same Garda sergeant secretly taping a meeting with a superior officer, and eventually disseminating a transcript of the conversation.
There are really only two conclusions to be drawn from such actions. Either this is a rogue officer making mischief, or he is somebody who has been driven to unprecedented measures to protect himself against major forces attempting to stop him exposing alleged wrongdoing in the administration of justice.
The circumstances surrounding Sgt Maurice McCabe’s peculiar actions tell plenty about this country, its institutions, and how they react to any threat to their power.
On Monday afternoon, a story appeared on the RTÉ News website. It concerned the controversy over whether or not Sgt McCabe, and his former colleague John Wilson, co-operated with the internal Garda inquiry into abuse of the penalty points system.
The inquiry was set up in November 2012 following complaints about abuse from the two then officers — Mr Wilson has since retired. There was no effort by the inquiry, headed up by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony, to contact the men about their allegations. Both say they expected to be contacted and were dismayed when they weren’t. Weeks before the publication of the inquiry report in May 2013, Sgt McCabe heard on the radio that the inquiry had been completed. He contacted the assistant commissioner asking why he hadn’t been interviewed and was told the inquiry was finished.
Despite all that, on October 1 last, Alan Shatter told the Dáil under privilege that both men had not co-operated. This was effectively a slur on their characters. It portrayed the pair as men who came forward with complaints, but who then refused to help the inquiry set up as a result of their complaints.
In recent days, Mr Shatter was under pressure to withdraw the remarks he’d made in the Dáil. He was expected to issue a statement yesterday.
That’s the background to an apparently innocuous story on the website of the national broadcaster, which appeared on Monday. The story stated that Commissioner Martin Callinan “wrote to Sergeant Maurice McCabe 14 months ago and told him to co-operate with the inquiry”. This portrays Sgt McCabe as a mischief maker and it backs up Mr Shatter’s claim that Sgt McCabe didn’t co-operate. Yet the story had no direct quotes from the commissioner, no direct quotes from any written direction to Sgt McCabe, nothing except the bald premise that: “Commissioner Martin Callian said...”
A call to the Garda Press Office confirmed the commissioner had not issued any statement. Are we to assume that he told somebody in RTÉ as an aside, on the basis that he wouldn’t be directly quoted? Is that a proper way for the head of the police force to engage with the media, particularly when it involved an attack on another man’s character? Is it a proper way for the national broadcaster to do its business?
The timing of the publication was instructive. Whether or not the whistleblowers co-operated with the internal garda inquiry is largely an issue for Mr Shatter and his possible abuse of Dáil privilege. Why was the Garda commissioner sticking his oar in, less than 24 hours before the minister for justice would have to answer for his actions? Surely he wasn’t running to the aid of his political master? Surely the head of the force wouldn’t involve himself in that level of party politics?
Did the national broadcaster have any idea that it was being used in this manner? Did anybody look for any corroboration of the story? Surely nobody in RTÉ was on board with the apparent shared agenda of the minister and commissioner? So Sgt McCabe was forced to come out and defend himself. He issued the press release, saying that he felt compelled to take this extraordinary step by the media reports that afternoon.
“I was never directed by the commissioner to co-operate with the O’Mahony investigation as alleged,” he said. “I was never contacted by anyone conducting the O’Mahony investigation which completed its report without making any attempt to speak with me or to seek my input or co-operation into its inquiries.”
Sgt McCabe wanted to tell the inquiry all he knew, but he was never contacted.
Now he was in conflict with his commissioner. One man’s word against another’s. Except, Sgt McCabe had an ace up his sleeve. He had an account of the conversation in which it was alleged that he was directed to co-operate. He had taped the conversation with the chief superintendent dispatched by the commissioner to Sgt McCabe’s station on the day in question, December 14, 2012.
A reading of the transcript backs up Sgt McCabe’s version of events. There was no specific direction to co-operate with the O’Mahony report. Sgt McCabe’s contention that he had expected to be contacted by the investigating team is largely vindicated by the transcript, published in yesterday’s Irish Examiner.
But why did he secretly record the meeting? By December 2012, Sgt McCabe was totally isolated within the force. He had made a number of complaints about alleged malpractice in Bailieborough, Co Cavan, and had received no proper response. His uncovering of abuse of the penalty points system also ran into a brick wall. He had gone through all the correct channels — line management, the confidential recipient, the Department of Justice, ultimately bringing his concerns to An Taoiseach.
He was getting nowhere. Within the force, he was being subjected to unreal pressure. Management had made their distaste for his actions known to him. This was probably best summed up by Commissioner Callinan at the Public Account Hearings last month when he described the actions of the whistleblowers as “disgusting”.
There had been an attempt to implicate him in the cock-ups following the assault on taxi driver Mary Lynch, which set in train the events that led to the murder of Silvia Roche Kelly. There had been an attempt — as reported in the Irish Examiner last month — to frame him for the loss in custody of a hard drive believed to contain child pornography images. He had been completely isolated within the force, and had received zero protection from the department or minister for justice. And he was the subject of a vicious whispering campaign designed to smear his character.
That was the background against which Sgt McCabe felt compelled to record meetings in order to protect himself. Where would he be now if he hadn’t taken that precaution? It would be his word against that of the commissioner and the minister, two powerful forces in an alleged democracy, where whistleblowers are buried with the truth.
Top lawyer on the case
By Conor Ryan
The man appointed to assess the merits of allegations levelled against An Garda Síochána is an experienced barrister who has led the prosecution in some of the country’s most high-profile criminal cases.
Seán Guerin was called to the bar in 1997 and established himself as a junior counsel specialising in cases taken by the DPP.
He became a senior counsel in 2013 and has been at the forefront of recent actions against the Dundon crime gang in Limerick. This has included the murder charges levelled against Wayne Dundon and last year’s trial of John Dundon.
Mr Guerin has also represented the DPP in the ongoing prosecution of Dublin man Graham Dwyer who is accused of killing Elaine O'Hara.
Mr Guerin also argued for the Law Society in 2013 in its effort to strike off a Tipperary solicitor for running an informal Ponzi scheme.
In July 2005, he represented Fine Gael at a hearing of the Mahon Tribunal which decided on the costs for the party.
At that point, Fine Gael was telling the tribunal that it had provided valuable assistance to it during the inquiries that informed Mr Justice Mahon’s second and third interim reports.
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