Maurice McCabe has stepped back into public view as patron of an anti-corruption body, writes Michael Clifford
Maurice McCabe would like to be back on the road. For more than a year he has been travelling the highways and byways of the country, getting stuck into a new way of life.
These days he works as a courier — with his own van and the road stretching out ahead of him like a brand new day.
Then along came the virus and he had to park up outside his home on the banks of Lough Sheelin in Co Cavan.
“I could have got a job in insurance or an office job but it wouldn’t have suited me any more,” he says.
“And I like driving, always have. I set up my own company and I work three days a week. It’s great.”
His face is still recognisable from the shots on the TV news that were repeated ad nauseum at one stage, because they were the only shots that RTÉ or anybody else had of him. There he was with a bag slung over his shoulder, his uniform on, as he looked for the entrance to Leinster House in early 2014 to go in and talk to the Public Accounts Committee about corruption in road policing.
More recently was the sight of him and his wife Lorraine, walking across the cobblestones in the upper yard in Dublin Castle, going into or coming from the Charleton Tribunal. Those days are all gone now and he doesn’t want them back. But when he’s on the road, he frequently gets approached by people telling him that he’s Maurice McCabe.
“People are nice; they come up to me and say ‘well done’ and ‘thanks’ and that. But sometimes I might wear a hat and glasses because I don’t want to be recognised,” he says.
Life has slowed down since the days when he was a staple of news reports over a protracted period of five years. There was the Public Accounts Committee, rows in the Dáil, resignations of commissioners and ministers, horrible false accusations — all culminating in a tribunal and vindication.
It’s in a past that he has left behind. “We were consumed with it for years, yeah,” he says. “Apart from all the documents I had to go through, we’d be watching the newspapers to see what has been written about me now. I’m just glad it’s all over. I wouldn’t have the energy for it now.”
He works three days a week. In the aftermath of the Charleton Tribunal he settled his actions against the State and An Garda Síochána. There was also an action against Tusla, the child and family agency, over the processing of an entirely false and horrifying allegation against him.
Three officials in the agency are due before a disciplinary tribunal in relation to their roles in that, but Maurice McCabe has no further involvement. The reason he has broken cover to talk publicly is that he wants to assist a fundraising drive for Transparency International Ireland, the anti-corruption body.
He was approached and asked to be a patron, and he has agreed. “I was honoured when John Devitt of TI [Transparency International, Ireland] rang me and asked me to be a patron,” McCabe says. “I said ‘why are you picking me?’ and he said ‘look what you did for us, look what you did for the Irish people’. I was honoured.”
TI runs a speak-up helpline for whistleblowers who are looking for advice, along with a free legal aid centre. The Irish chapter of the organisation is well established in the country, but funding remains a major problem.
This week TI launched an appeal through its website, with a target of raising €50,000 in order to continue its service.
McCabe first came across TI in 2012, at a time when he had brought the systemic quashing of penalty points in road policing to the attention of Garda management. By then, an internal investigation had largely dismissed his complaints on criminal investigations, although in time those complaints would be vindicated by a commission of investigation.
“I was at work one day and everything was building up and I didn’t know who to contact. So I googled them and I rang and I met John
Devitt and he was great. I met him over a period of three years and got advice,” he says.
“They were great for me. When everybody is saying ‘you’re wrong, you’re wrong’ and I knew I was right. At times like that you just need somebody and I had nobody to turn to until I rang him.”
There is one way in which his former life won’t leave him alone, but he doesn’t mind it. Frequently he is contacted by people who say they are whistleblowers. They want advice or at the very least they want to talk to him as somebody who has been through the mill.
Usually, but not always, the communication is by email or telephone — but not always. “They do come to the house sometimes,” he says. “I had a woman up here not so long ago who travelled from Limerick. She arrived on a Sunday and asked in the local shop where I lived but they wouldn’t tell her. She found her way to my home anyway and came in and was here for two hours.
“When people want it I give advice, but I can’t be taking on anyone’s case at this stage. I had 12 years of it. Sometimes you just have to listen and they may not have a case, and you have to be honest about that.
“The last time somebody came to the house was at Christmas. And that was another genuine case and I told her I thought she had a case.” As for his former , he is hopeful that today no other member who feels compelled to report wrongdoing would be subjected to what he experienced.
“I think under Drew Harris the job is changing for the better. He did call up to me, soon after he started, one evening and I expressed all my concerns and my views and he had the same views.
“It may take him 10 years overall to leave An Garda Síochána an excellent police force — it’s hard to know if he can do it in five.”
Transparency International Ireland fundraising campaign see: transparency.ie
Maurice McCabe is the guest on this week’s Irish Examiner Mick Clifford podcast.