What’s the big deal? Is it all about chasing a political head?
Is it fodder for anoraks, this business of Frances Fitzgerald, Maurice McCabe and emails and a commission of inquiry and what have you?
For some, the political controversy of the last few days is a distraction, something that is obsessing politicians and reporters while the real world passes on by.
In fact, there are vital issues at stake here. First and foremost is the question of to what is a whistleblower subjected when he or she raises issues of malpractice? Will such an individual be attacked in any way possible? Would agents of the state engage in such an attack?
Would government departments do likewise? What of the State’s obligation to protect all citizens, but particularly those who are under attack? What does it all say about the basic health of a democracy?
There is also the personal element to the affair. Maurice McCabe raised issues of malpractice in policing. There is copious evidence that he was relentlessly hounded thereafter.
Through stubbornness, guile, luck and the support of those around him he persisted all the way to vindication.
The price he paid was the effective termination of a promising career, the traducing of his character and a decade laden with stress and worry for him and his family.
Such matters are important. What has been spilling out lately fills in more gaps on the narrative of how some elements in the area of criminal justice were determined that McCabe would be destroyed.
On Tuesday evening in the Dáil, Mick Wallace introduced another strand to the McCabe story, which had heretofore been kept behind the closed doors of a commission of inquiry.
Many of the attacks of McCabe’s character used a discredited allegation of child sexual abuse which was made against the garda sergeant by the daughter of a colleague whom he had disciplined. (This woman is now known as Ms D) The complaint in 2006 was investigated, and determined by the investigating garda inspector, the local state solicitor and the DPP’s office to have no credibility.
When the time came, however, the bare bones of the complaint, the mere phrase “child sexual abuse”, was used against McCabe in the most grievous manner.
The issue dogging Fitzgerald at the moment centres on a legal strategy at the O’Higgins commission to attack McCabe for bearing a grudge associated with the allegation.
On May 15, 2015, O’Higgins was told that McCabe had expressed a grudge against the force over how the DPP’s directions were handled. This grudge was supposed to have been expressed at a meeting in Mullingar in 2008.
Then McCabe produced a recording of the meeting at which no such grudge was ever expressed.
Frances Fitzgerald was informed in general terms of what was going on in O’Higgins at the time, and is now in trouble for doing nothing about it.
However, at the debate on Tuesday evening Mick Wallace touched on a separate attempt at O’Higgins to attack McCabe.
Wallace told the House of evidence given at O’Higgins by former chief superintendent Colm Rooney, who oversaw the Cavan/Monaghan division.
“Chief superintendent Colm Rooney said Maurice was angry and vicious and wanted the DPP to overturn the directions from the Ms D file, not realising that Maurice had already seen them, agreed with them and wouldn’t be looking for them to be overturned.”
Wallace referenced evidence from a witness (Rooney), which were it issued outside the privilege of the House could be deemed a criminal offence. The Wexford TD might justifiably claim that it was in the public interest that what occurred at the commission should now be made public.
The evidence to which Wallace refers concerned a meeting between Rooney and McCabe, which Rooney said occurred in June/July 2007.
At it, as Wallace outlined, Rooney claimed that McCabe was “angry and vicious” and wanted the DPP directions in the Ms D case overturned. Rooney gave evidence to that effect.
What Rooney did not know when he gave this evidence at O’Higgins was that by June/July 2007 McCabe had had sight of the DPP’s directions through the local state solicitor and agreed completely with them. Wallace referenced that “Maurice had already seen them, agreed with them and wouldn’t be looking for them to be overturned.”
The directions could not have been more emphatic in his favour. This emerged publicly last July at the Disclosures Tribunal.
Yet according to Rooney’s evidence, McCabe did not know the exact directions and was “angry and vicious” over the matter. This chimes with the allegation in relation to the Mullingar meeting that he expressed a grudge over how the DPP’s directions were handled.
Is it a coincidence that there were two scenarios painted in which McCabe was angry and bearing a grudge over the same issue, yet both of these scenarios were shown not to have been based on fact?
The alternative explanation, one which all the gardaí involved in these matters vehemently deny, is that there was a conspiracy to portray McCabe as angry and bearing a grudge that informed his decision to make complaints of malpractice.
The Dáil questions for Frances Fitzgerald opened up the vista that the Department of Justice may well have been informed of the legal strategy to be used against McCabe.
At the very least, a question arises as to why department officials or the minister did not ask some questions as to why a man publicly being lauded was to be attacked in this manner behind closed doors.
Judge Peter Charleton, chair of the Disclosures Tribunal, will have to adjudicate on this issue.
These things matter. Democracy demands that the State and government serve the people.
If agents of the State or any element of government were engaged in conspiring to attack somebody who faithfully served that State then it needs to be weeded out before similar damage is ever done to any other whistleblower.
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