Sergeant Maurice McCabe indicated to his bosses that he felt under “threat” from Nóirín O’Sullivan after her legal team told the O’Higgins inquiry that they were challenging his motivation in making complaints about corruption and malpractice.
In a report of a meeting with his district officer on May 18, 2015, Sgt McCabe said he “did not feel safe” and that if anything went wrong “they would be down on him like a ton of bricks”.
The report, sent by Superintendent Alan Murray to the commissioner’s office, was revealed yesterday at the Disclosure Tribunal, where Ms O’Sullivan was giving evidence.
The tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the former commissioner to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, which investigated his complaints about policing and corruption in Cavan/Monaghan.
The Garda legal strategy to challenge the motivation of Sgt McCabe was initially sanctioned by the commissioner on May 14, 2015, and pursued by her counsel the day after. This resulted in a “heated” row at the commission, with serious objections from Sgt McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell.
This lead to a flurry of urgent phone calls between the commissioner and her liaison officer, Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy, in which she reconfirmed her instructions, which she stressed was originally based on counsel advice.
During that time, she also rang the two most senior civil servants in the Department of Justice — but Ms O’Sullivan said this was not to seek their legal advice.
On the morning of May 18, a detailed written statement was submitted to the commission setting out the purported factual basis to the strategy to question Sgt McCabe’s motivation.
That day, Sgt McCabe sought a meeting with his district officer in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
A report Supt Murray submitted to the commissioner’s office said that Sgt McCabe felt he could no longer carry on as sergeant in charge of the Mullingar traffic unit. The report said: “As an explanation, he indicated the reason was Nóirín O’Sullivan and he felt under threat.”
It said the whistleblower “did not feel safe” and felt that “if anything was to go wrong they would be down on him like a ton of bricks”.
In her first day giving evidence at the tribunal, Ms O’Sullivan said she was mindful of what was happening at the O’Higgins commission and how that would change Sgt McCabe’s perception of her.
Cross-examined by Kathleen Leader, counsel for the tribunal, she said: “I was at a loss that he felt under threat from me.”
Sgt McCabe had previously made complaints to the commissioner and the justice minister regarding alleged bullying and harassment he was experiencing at Mullingar.
Ms O’Sullivan told the tribunal that she had met Sgt McCabe and his legal advisers twice — in August 2014 and February 2015 — and made a commitment to address the issues.
She had appointed various senior officers to identify and tackle the issues and had brought in external expert Kieran Mulvey as an external mediator.
Ms O’Sullivan told Ms Leader that she faced an “unprecedented dilemma” in, on one hand, supporting Sgt McCabe’s welfare and addressing his workplace issues while, on the other hand, having to instruct her counsel to test his motivation for making serious allegations of corruption and malpractice.
She said she “never, ever” considered Sgt McCabe to be malicious, and said she had no reason to “challenge or impugn his integrity” and never directed her counsel to do so.
She said it was “never, ever about the man” but about “testing” the validity and veracity of his allegations of corruption and malpractice.
Asked what intention she had in sanctioning the legal strategy, Ms O’Sullivan said it did not suggest Sgt McCabe was operating with a “bad motive” or “improper motive”, but that counsel should get an “understanding” of the basis of his complaints and to “test” that.
Ms O’Sullivan said she never believed Sgt McCabe was acting on anything other than “appropriate concerns” — and said that had always been her position.
She disagreed with Ms Leader that she suspected Sgt McCabe had become embittered with the force.
However, she said Sgt McCabe may have become “very frustrated” when local management refused to circulate the decision of the DPP in a case involving an allegation of child sexual abuse against him, which the DPP ruled was not a crime and should not be prosecuted.
Ms O’Sullivan’s evidence continues today.
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