Cutting through the fog of confusion surrounding whistleblower scandal

Allegations of collusion and Garda corruption plus a welter of political spin have surounded a whistleblower scandal that just refuses to go away, writes Cormac O’Keeffe.

Cutting through the fog of confusion surrounding whistleblower scandal

MORE confusion and spin.

We were here earlier this month with the suspected bugging of the Garda Ombudsman.

Now we’re here again; this time a “bewildering” series of allegations of garda misconduct, incompetence and worse from a whistleblower.

Many people — the loudest in the debate — have already made up their mind as to the truth. Just like the last time.

Amidst the confusion we have dark, and loose, talk of collusion, corruption and cover-ups, with repeated comparisons yesterday to the Donegal scandal and the Morris Tribunal.

In the middle of the confusion and spin again stands Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

He is accused of “circling the wagon” and suffocating any whiff of garda wrongdoing and undermining — even attacking — statutory systems for holding An Garda Síochána to account.

The last time it was the Garda Ombudsman which bore the brunt. This time it is whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

On the face of it, both are Davids in a fight against modern-day Goliaths: lined up against the Minister for Justice, the Garda Commissioner, the Government and parts of the media.

Their supporters are the opposition, prominent journalists and commentators.

It is an unfair fight, for sure. But are Sgt McCabe’s allegations of garda misconduct true? None, all or some.

Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins said anyone who has met Sgt McCabe from across the political spectrum believes he “stands up to rigour and scrutiny.”

Sgt McCabe has certainly fought a long, lonely, fight, making his first round of allegations in 2008. Several deputies said he pursued his allegations despite being allegedly subjected to “slander,” “demonisation” and “bullying.”

Both he and fellow whistleblower, former Garda John Wilson, took their complaints on alleged penalty point abuses to the confidential recipient. Believing the issue was being “stonewalled,” they brought their concerns to the Comptroller & Auditor General, the Road Safety Authority and Dáil TDs.

A detailed C&AG report subsequently found “significant weaknesses” in the garda penalty point system, with one in five road traffic offenders avoiding penalties.

It raised specific concern at the termination of almost 43,000 offences in 2011 and 2012 — a significant proportion in circumstances not in line with policy and which may have been terminated “without due cause.”

It differed from an earlier investigation by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony, which was set up to investigate the complaints from the whistleblowers. This investigation is at the centre of much of the current controversies.

Mr Shatter told the Dáil that Sgt McCabe was not interviewed as part of this investigation, but said he expected he would have been.

The commissioner did invite the sergeant to bring his concerns to the O’Mahony investigation and a chief superintendent repeatedly advised him to do so. But he didn’t. Minister Shatter told the Dáil last October that Sgt McCabe declined to cooperate with the investigation. That seems to have gone too far.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said this accusation “undermined the credibility of the whistleblower.”

Mr Shatter did not apologise or retract his comment yesterday. He later said there was “fault on both sides” and that he didn’t understand why a “phone call wasn’t made” by the investigation team.

Equally, he said people could not argue that Sgt McCabe had cooperated, given he didn’t take up repeated invitations to do so.

The Garda Ombudsman is now investigating the penalty points issue and will hopefully bring some clarity. Mr Shatter went into detail yesterday about all the correspondence between Sgt McCabe and his department on separate, and numerous, allegations, concerning malpractice in investigating serious crime, some of which have been well aired.

The minister referred to an earlier investigation led by Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne into 11 allegations made by Sgt McCabe. It sent ten volumes of files to the DPP who directed no prosecution. Disciplinary measures were taken by the commissioner.

Mr Shatter pointed out that the ombudsman investigated many of these matters.

He said that while Sgt McCabe had been “proven correct” in relation to some of his allegations, some of his claims had “proven incorrect”. He said he had made claims that a variety of members “are corrupt”.

Mr Shatter also questioned his behaviour in secretly taping a conversation with a senior officer.

Deputy Martin said there was “no faith” that investigations into complaints from the whistleblowers were handled properly.

He described the ten investigation files as a “smokescreen” and that there was “substantive evidence” of an “ongoing and profound problem” in how allegations of improper garda behaviour were handled. And he made repeated references to the Donegal scandal and the Morris Tribunal.

The wider allegations are now being examined by senior counsel Shane Guerin. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the barrister would “engage directly” with Sgt McCabe. This, together with his review of the mountain of documentation on the matter, should give us, fingers crossed, some clarity.

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