Truth is out there: Who picks up the tab for ‘campaign of calumny’ against Maurice McCabe?

Michael Clifford Taxpayers will probably foot the bill for ‘campaign of calumny’ against Maurice McCabe, writes Michael Clifford.

Truth is out there: Who picks up the tab for ‘campaign of calumny’ against Maurice McCabe?

Taxpayers will probably foot the bill for ‘campaign of calumny’ against Maurice McCabe, writes Michael Clifford.

THERE was most likely shock in some quarters after last night’s viewing on RTÉ television of Whistleblower: The Maurice McCabe Story. The Cavan-based sergeant was subjected to vilification and isolation, a witch hunt and false allegations. And all because he made a decision to call out malpractice in the force.

McCabe, who retired from the force two weeks ago, was also subjected to “a campaign of calumny” as ruled by Judge Peter Charleton in the Disclosures Tribunal Report.

The person deemed to have been responsible for the calumny — effectively an attempt to destroy McCabe’s character — was former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

At the weekend it was revealed that in a civil action McCabe is taking against the State, Callinan is being represented by the State’s lawyers.

This will undoubtedly generate anger among many who are now familiar with that to which McCabe was subjected. If Callinan was smearing the character of a man acting in the best interest of the force, why should the citizens pick up his tab?

The question is valid, but unfortunately for anybody who bristles at the thought of Callinan suffering no financial penalty, the alternatives are very limited.

McCabe issued proceedings against the State in early 2017. He claimed for damages for the actions against him in An Garda Síochána, including utterances Callinan was reported to have made. Callinan had told TD John McGuinness that McCabe was under investigation for child abuse. Not only was the statement utterly false, Callinan was aware that it was false.

At the tribunal, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy revealed that Callinan had said something similar to him. McCabe’s legal action also included the allegation that former Garda press officer David Taylor was instructed by Callinan to spread the lies about McCabe.

Maurice McCabe with his wife Lorraine. Picture: Barry Cronin
Maurice McCabe with his wife Lorraine. Picture: Barry Cronin

Yet, it has now emerged that last July the acting Garda commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin agreed to provide legal representation for Callinan in the action being taken by McCabe. The Department of Justice confirmed the representation on Ó Cualáin’s recommendation.

Then it was reported that the new commissioner Drew Harris is reviewing this arrangement. Some might wilfully interpret the story as one of the powers-that-be looking after Callinan before the new man — Harris — rides in on his horse to break up the cosy consensus.

What if the decision was reversed? In the first instance, the State would have to come “off record”, tell the court that it was no longer acting for Callinan.

The former commissioner has reportedly a written agreement with Dónall Ó Cualáin to the effect that he would be represented. How would the State get around that one?

Callinan could then retain his own team and the first thing he would do is seek to be indemnified. Could the State refuse that? If so would a challenge against the decision be successful?

Take a simple example. If a man is assaulted by a garda while being arrested, and the man brings a civil action, can the State wash its hands of its agent — the garda — acting in the manner he did?

By the same token, Callinan was Garda commissioner when he smeared McCabe’s character. While his scurrilous actions were beyond the scope of his duty, he could claim that anything he did was done in his capacity as commissioner.

Martin Callinan has been under the spotlight following the Charleton Tribunal report.
Martin Callinan has been under the spotlight following the Charleton Tribunal report.

Then there is the probability that McCabe’s case will be settled before ever reaching a court. What then? The State would presumably have to reach an agreement with its co-defendant, Callinan, on any settlement. Is he likely to cough up in that instance? Does a turkey vote for Christmas?

Challenging the original decision to represent Callinan on a matter of principle would be laudable but would most likely be far more expensive than the current arrangement. There is also the issue over the perceptions such actions might have on state attitudes to McCabe. The minister for justice has apologised to him on behalf of the state and Harris apologised on behalf of An Garda Síochána. How then would it appear if government agencies were to engage in a protracted dispute with the former commissioner instead of moving to bring McCabe’s actions to an expedited conclusion?

One other possibility if the State were to cut Callinan loose would be for McCabe to sue him in a personal capacity. Financially, this would be unlikely to make sense.

The thought of the citizens picking up the tab for Callinan’s campaign of calumny does stick in the craw. Unfortunately, as in many other walks, proper accountability does not appear to apply in this instance. And if form is anything to go by, we’ll be waiting a long time before the legislature gets around to rectifying that matter.

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