A state solicitor was so concerned about the strategy to undermine Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the commission investigating his allegations that she made a late-night weekend phone call to the Garda head of legal affairs to alert him to what was happening.
The phone call came from Ann Marie Ryan of the Chief State Solicitor’s Office to Mr Ruane at 11pm on Saturday, May 16, 2015, the day after a row had erupted at the O’Higgins commission over attempts by counsel for the Garda commissioner to undermine Sgt McCabe by bringing up references to an unfounded allegation of child sexual abuse made against him years earlier.
The tribunal is investigating if there was a deliberate strategy by Garda HQ to destroy Sgt McCabe’s credibility and reputation.
Mr Ruane agreed with counsel for the tribunal that it was very unusual to receive such a call but he said his chief concern was whether the commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, knew what had happened at the commission, which was being held in private.
Immediately after that call, he phoned Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy, Ms O’Sullivan’s liaison officer at the commission. Once Chief Supt Healy told him he had spoken directly to Ms O’Sullivan the previous day, Mr Ruane was happy to leave things stand.
Ken Ruane, Garda head of legal affairs, told the tribunal yesterday it unusual to receive such a call from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office.
“With hindsight, perhaps I should have contacted the commissioner and said you really need to think about this,” he said.
Notes Mr Ruane took of a meeting with the commissioner’s legal team on May 11 reveal there were discussions about Sgt McCabe’s motivations in making some of his allegations.
Other notes taken at the same meeting record references being made to another Garda whistleblower, John Wilson, referred to as a “union man”.
An allegation about his professional conduct was made and it was suggested he and Sgt McCabe were “working together”.
Mr Ruane told the tribunal this was simply by way of providing background to the legal team. Ann Marie Ryan told the tribunal this was also her understanding of why the issues were discussed.
She said they were raised at the instigation of the legal team, who wanted to know “why all this kicked off”, meaning why relations between Sgt McCabe and senior officers had broken down.
Ms Ryan said there was no decision made at that meeting that there would be a strategy of undermining Sgt McCabe by way of questioning his motivations and no instructions came from the commissioner to do so.
In fact, she said, there were no instructions from the commissioner at all. Ms O’Sullivan did not attend this meeting or two other meetings on May 12 and 13.
From Ms Ryan’s account, Garda management’s preparations for the commission were in disarray. They didn’t request legal representation from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office until late April and didn’t hand over any documents relating to the commission until early May.
When the first tranche arrived, they had to be sent back to be indexed. “I couldn’t make head or tail of them,” she said.
She said Garda HQ was hoping the commission would be delayed because Sgt McCabe’s legal team were taking judicial review proceedings over their fees. “They thought they just wouldn’t turn up,” she said.
The commission began on May 14 as scheduled and Ms Ryan was aware there had still been no discussion with Ms O’Sullivan — so much so that she made a special application for Chief Supt Healy to be allowed remain in the room for the hearings because she felt she couldn’t proceed without some senior garda present to assist.
“I wanted a consultation [with Ms O’Sullivan]. I expected a consultation,” she said.
The tribunal continues.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved