THE air in George’s Hall in Dublin Castle can get soupy this weather. As the temperature rises, the double doors leading into the high ceiling room are opened. The odd wave of fresh air floats in and there is temporary relief from all the awfulness spilling out at the Disclosures Tribunal.
Bear with me just a few minutes if you’ve had enough of tribunals as there are still times when something arresting can emerge. One such occasion was last Monday. Now, as the great North Kerry scribe, Con Houlihan, was wont to declare, read on.
Michael McDowell was cross-examining former Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, on a stuffy afternoon. Mr McDowell represents Sgt Maurice McCabe, who may have had his character thrashed from on high when he was bearing tidings of garda corruption in road policing.
By January 2013, the gardaí were conducting an internal investigation into Sgt McCabe’s claims about the fixing of speeding tickets. Sgt McCabe was officially anonymous, known only as “the whistleblower”. One day that month the man heading up the probe, Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney, received an email from a colleague.
“John, a number of phonecalls were received by my office over the past few days from a Mr Bernard McCabe seeking to speak to me. Moments ago, I made contact with Mr McCabe, who reported that he is an uncle of the whistleblower, his words, and that he has a lot of information about him and wishes to meet with a member of An Garda Síochána to pass on the information.”
The following morning, O’Mahoney wrote to the head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Chief Superintendent Padraig Kennedy. “You should make contact with Mr McCabe and listen to what he has to say. Report in course.”
Chief Supt Kennedy is a top cop, the kind of man you’d want to have busting organised crime or solving murders. He is, according to his former boss Mr Callinan, an “extremely thorough investigator”.
Bernard McCabe and Maurice McCabe are estranged and have not spoken in years. As is not uncommon, there was a falling-out way back between different elements of the wider family.
Now up pops the older Mr McCabe with information about his whistleblower nephew, and the head of the NBCI is put on the case. What any of this has to do with a garda investigation into fixing speeding tickets is anybody’s guess.
A few months later, in May 2013, Chief Supt Kennedy, and Det Supt George Kyne travelled to Cavan to meet Bernard McCabe and his son Fintan.
Supt Kyne is another top cop. At the time, he was investigating a high profile murder in the Co Louth area.
“So this man was being taken off a very serious murder investigation and attending Sgt McCabe’s uncle’s home in the company of the head of the NBCI to hear what Sgt McCabe’s uncle had to say about him?” Mr McDowell asked Mr Callinan last Monday.
The former commissioner agreed that appeared to be the case.
Deploying two top investigators to the case might have been justified if the McCabes were an organised crime family. Perhaps the uncle could have been turning State’s evidence, ratting out his associates. The prospect of convictions and long prison sentences for violent criminals would be enough to bring the top gardaí running. Except, what we’re dealing with here was not a crime godfather, but a garda with an exemplary record.
The elder Mr McCabe did have some serious allegations. He told the intrepid sleuths the whistleblower had fixed two drink-driving convictions for two citizens. By any standard, that’s a serious allegation which, if substantiated, should at the very least lead to dismissal from An Garda Síochána. Bernard McCabe did not provide any evidence of this corrupt behaviour.
There was no substance to the allegations. The matter was investigated through checks on the two citizens on the Garda Pulse system. An IT specialist within the force was deployed to conduct this examination.
A report was compiled. One of the two individuals had a conviction which was appealed successfully to the circuit court. The other had no record of any arrest or conviction for drink driving. Sgt McCabe had never accessed the details on the Pulse system. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the interactions both individuals had with the law.
Despite the investigation, Sgt McCabe was not informed that the most serious of allegations were levelled against him. As a member of An Garda Síochána he was entitled to know that he was being accused of these offences, considered so serious that the top investigators in the country were dispatched to Cavan.
There is no record of anybody in the force at the very least cautioning Bernard McCabe about making groundless allegations against a garda.
There was another issue grinding away in the background at the time of this so-called investigation. Since early 2012, Sgt McCabe had been going through a disciplinary process about the loss of a computer seized from a child-abusing priest. Sgt McCabe had nothing to do with the investigation into the priest. He had nothing to do with the computer.
Yet, he faced disciplinary action about the matter. The action against him coincided with the time that he first complained about ticket fixing. And the end of that process was now approaching in May/June 2013. He was going to be exonerated after a stressful 18 months.
It may be coincidental that just as one possibility of Sgt McCabe being cast in a poor light was closing down, another was opened up, albeit very temporarily. Unfortunately for anybody who might have been disposed towards casting Sgt McCabe in a poor light, it came to naught.
Three years later, guess what? Bernard McCabe had more complaints.
In December 2016, an assistant commissioner, no less, was dispatched to his home. Michael Finn subsequently wrote he was with Mr McCabe for two hours.
“He made assertions that Sergeant McCabe was influential in letting people off with road traffic offences going back 15 years. I subsequently made a memo of my meeting with him. I was of the opinion that Bernard McCabe had issues with Sgt McCabe.”
You don’t say, assistant commissioner.
There may be a plausible explanation for all this, but in its absence, the whole thing emits a very bad smell.
Michael McDowell broached this subject with former commissioner Mr Callinan at the tribunal. The witness knew nothing about it.
“There was mining for dirt against Sgt McCabe going on… accepting that you didn’t order it to be done, somebody senior in An Garda Síochána was doing it at the time,” he said.
Mr Callinan replied: “Well, I can’t say that and I’ve no knowledge of it.”
We have become inured to scandal.
Sometimes, though, facts spill out that still retain the capacity to shock.