There was a time, not so long ago, when the kind of evidence heard at the Disclosures Tribunal over the last week would have caused shock and outrage.
A series of witnesses cast the character and actions of a former Garda commissioner in the darkest light imaginable.
If the evidence was to be believed — and it is disputed by former commissioner Martin Callinan — it would point to the head of the police force as a person unsuitable to even wear a Garda uniform, not to mind lead the force.
Yesterday, the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy threw in his tuppence worth. Mr McCarthy is a senior civil servant of the highest repute. He does not engage much in public outside the parameters of his job and is not given to extravagant statements.
When the chairman of tribunal, Judge Peter Charleton, called for anybody with any possible information about the tribunal’s work — largely allegations of attempts to attack Mr McCabe’s character — Mr McCarthy felt compelled to come forward.
He told the tribunal about an encounter with Martin Callinan ahead of the latter’s appearance at the Public Accounts Committee meeting on January 23, 2014. Mr McCarthy had prepared the report into alleged abuses of the penalty points system which was the substance of Sergeant McCabe’s claims and the committee meeting about to take place.
Mr McCarthy described how he descended the stairs to the basement of Leinster House where the committee met. At the foot of the stairs he encountered Mr Callinan.
“We began with normal greetings but very quickly the commissioner raised Sergeant McCabe’s name in conversation along the lines that he was not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer and that there were sexual offences allegations against him.”
Mr Callinan denies saying such things, although he does acknowledge conversations. Mr McCarthy says he believes Mr Callinan did say these things with a view to shaking him from his “conviction” about abuse of the penalty points system in his report.
Some five hours later, at the end of the meeting, Mr Callinan allegedly said something of a similar character about Sergeant McCabe to PAC chair John McGuinness, according to the latter. Again Mr Callinan denies this.
On Tuesday, it was revealed by Fine Gael TD John Deasy, who was a member of the PAC, that prior to the meeting Mr Callinan told him in the coffee dock that Sergeant McCabe was not to be trusted. Mr Callinan denies this. The following day, Mr Callinan contacted John McGuinness requesting a meeting about Sergeant McCabe’s possible appearance before the committee the following week.
On Monday, John McGuinness related what transpired when the meeting took place in his car in the hotel carpark.
“He suggested that he (McCabe) had sexually abused family and an individual and that he was not to be trusted and that I had made a grave error (in co-operating with McCabe).”
Mr Callinan denies saying anything of this nature about Sergeant McCabe.
The following weekend, after Mr Callinan’s appearance at the PAC, and before Sergeant McCabe’s, Mr Callinan briefed the celebrity solicitor, Gerald Kean, before he went on the Marian Finucane radio programme on RTÉ radio.
On air, Mr Kean said that Sergeant McCabe and former garda John Wilson had not co-operated with an internal inquiry into the penalty points matter. He also said they broke data protection laws. None of this was true and RTÉ ended up shelling out more than €180,000 in settlement of defamation actions from the two men.
Mr Kean says he was repeating what Commissioner Callinan told him. Mr Callinan denies this.
That’s four separate individuals who claim that during those January days, Mr Callinan briefed negatively about Sergeant McCabe. Two of the individuals claim the briefing painted the sergeant as a suspected child abuser who was under investigation. This was entirely false. There was no investigation, Sergeant McCabe had never been investigated for child abuse.
There had been an incident that was investigated in 2006, eight years previously. This involved an allegation by the daughter of a colleague whom Sergeant McCabe had been involved in disciplining. The outcome was that the DPP said that even if the alleged event occurred — and there were major credibility issues around the complainant — it wasn’t criminal in nature.
The local state solicitor agreed and described the allegation as one of “horseplay”.
The whole affair had a major impact on the sergeant and his family. He is convinced the groundless allegation was made because of his soured relationship with the girl’s father.
All of this was long over by the time Sergeant McCabe made his complaints about the abuse of the penalty points system. There is no credible way that anybody could have mistook the nature and context of what happened in 2006 with allegations that the sergeant was under investigation for “sexual offences” eight years later.
If the Garda commissioner did make the allegations that a TD and senior civil servant claims he made, there is no room for doubt or confusion. One possibility is he did not make the allegations, which would give rise to questions as to why people like Mr McGuinness or Mr McCarthy would allege he did.
The other possibility is the evidence heard this week is correct. If so, the alleged scurrilous and false utterances made by Mr Callinan about the sergeant were entirely malicious.
If this is the case, the premise for blackening Sergeant McCabe was to deflect from his claims — ultimately vindicated — that there was widespread abuse of road safety policing in the force. Such a vista would be nothing short of chilling.
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