Report a vindication of McCabe complaints

It is hard to conceive of a more damning indictment of former justice minister Alan Shatter, the dysfunctional Department of Justice, or of the Garda Siochána, than barrister Seán Guerin’s scathing report on their cavalier handling of, and failure to properly investigate, allegations of wrongdoing brought to light by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Report a vindication of McCabe complaints

Above all, the report lends credence to public fears of an unhealthy working relationship between politics and policing, between the ex-minister and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, who recently retired, or more likely was sacked by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose own political role in the McCabe affair leaves much to be desired.

The end result of this squalid scenario saw Mr Shatter with no choice but to fall on his sword. He has only himself to blame for snuffing out a political career that delivered much legal reform and promised more, but for his lack of judgement.

Ironically, in characteristic fashion, he sought to pass the buck by complaining in his resignation speech that Mr Guerin had not questioned him. Reading the damning contents of this report, it is perhaps easy to see why. Both the Department of Justice and gardaí at the highest level are left with their image in tatters.

The wide-ranging report voices concern over the failure of the ex-minister, the gardaí and other agencies to take all appropriate steps to investigate allegations of Garda misconduct. From the outset, the Government’s handling of the controversy has been unhelpful. This is reflected in the stated concern that neither Mr Shatter nor the gardaí were able to heed the voice of a man held in high regard by his immediate superiors. The Garda Ombudsman is also criticised for not handing over documents, an obstacle to any assessment of the adequacy of the investigations conducted by GSOC.

From page 1 to 300, the Guerin document is a total vindication of the complaints made by Sgt McCabe. Though an excellent member of the force, he was treated shamefully by an arrogant Mr Shatter who was later forced to issue an apology in the Dáil. The courageous sergeant also had to endure the personal insult of hearing the allegations made by him in good faith and without malice, described as “disgusting” by ex-commissioner Callinan at a hearing of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

While concern for the personal and professional consequences for the whistle-blower is expressed by the report, it is outrageous to think he is still being bullied and victimised by other members of the force, obviously in denial as to the gravity of his charges. Presumably, they also remain oblivious to the damage their blind attitude is inflicting on the reputation of the gardaí.

That abusive scenario has not been helped by the failure of interim Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to reinstate his access to the Pulse system, especially since he has provided such telling proof of his expertise. The widespread abuse of the system revealed by the sergeant and corroborated by the independent Garda inspectorate showed that penalty points and other records were altered or deleted by gardaí. Considering its importance in the campaign to reduce road fatalities, Ms O’Sullivan should give him full and immediate clearance to operate Pulse.

The commitment given by new Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to set up a commission of investigation is to be welcomed. She should go further, however, and take up the call by a retired chief superintendent for a two-pronged approach to policing, embracing a criminal investigation into wrongdoing and an inquiry into structural problems in the force to achieve a balance between accountability and professionalism.

It should not be forgotten that the Taoiseach led the Government’s bid to undermine the allegations of the whistleblower in what can only be described as a blatant attempt to sweep them under the Dáil carpet and kill off public debate on the controversy.

Fortunately, and due in no small measure to Sgt McCabe’s unflinching courage and that of fellow whistleblower Garda John Wilson, this was a story that refused to go away.

Yet, were it not for the tenacity of investigative journalists of the calibre of Michael Clifford and Mary Regan of the Irish Examiner, John Mooney of the Sunday Times, and Newstalk commentators, it is very likely the Coalition would have succeeded in muzzling debate. It also has to be said that some elements of the media ran with the line being spun by the trio of Messrs Shatter, Kenny, and Callinan.

Without the persistence of independent deputies Mick Wallace and Claire Daly, backed by the support of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, the case could have died. If that had been allowed to happen, Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan would still be in their posts and Sgt McCabe would be blown out of the water with the help of the Taoiseach. The Guerin report shows how wrong they were.

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