In early 2015, Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was doing her best for the turbulent cop who had blown the whistle on malpractice in the force.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe was, by that point, highly regarded by the public.
And Ms O’Sullivan had also complimented his service to the force, the Charleton Tribunal heard yesterday.
Politicians had praised him, and an inquiry by Sean Guerin SC the previous year had found that he was somebody to whom attention should be paid.
Not everybody was thrilled with Sgt McCabe. He had made a series of allegations of bullying and harassment at his station in Mullingar. But HQ was coming to the rescue, according to the head of legal affairs in the force, Ken Ruane.
He told the tribunal yesterday that great efforts were being made to deal with the bullying issue.
The name of industrial relations supremo Kieran Mulvey was mentioned as somebody who could come in and help out. Everything was just smashing in the previously tense relationship between HQ and the sergeant who had highlighted malpractice.
There was a small cloud on the horizon, the upcoming O’Higgins commission which was to investigate Sgt McCabe’s by then historic claims of malpractice in Cavan/Monaghan.
Guerin had recommended such an inquiry, and now it had arrived. There would be issues, but nothing to worry the current management in the Phoenix Park.
In preparation for the commencement of O’Higgins on May 14, 2015, a consultation meeting between garda representatives and their legal team took place at the Four Courts three days earlier.
Yesterday, notes from the meeting were produced. Mr Ruane was there, along with state solicitor Annmarie Ryan, the gardaí’s senior counsel Colm Smyth, and other guards and lawyers.
The allegation that Sgt McCabe had inappropriately touched a colleague’s daughter — dating from 1998 and unequivocally dismissed as lacking all credibility in 2007 — was raised.
A note taken by State solicitor Annmarie Ryan stated that somebody brought up the fact that Sgt McCabe had wanted sight of the 2007 investigation file.
This was entirely erroneous. Sgt McCabe never requested the file.
There was a comment attributed to Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, that Sgt McCabe had stated: “I will bring this job to its knees.”
Mr Byrne had overseen the internal garda investigation into Sgt McCabe’s complaints. The tribunal heard yesterday that that investigation had stated that Sgt McCabe had no malice in bringing his complaints.
At the subsequent O’Higgins hearings, Mr Byrne gave extensive evidence. There is no record of him ever attributing that quote to Sgt McCabe.
If he had done, surely the Cavan sergeant would have been investigated. Yet, at the legal consultation, this was being thrown around, portraying Sgt McCabe as somebody with a grudge against the force.
Retired garda John Wilson was also mentioned at the consultation. A derogatory accusation — so serious that tribunal counsel Pat Marrinan declined to read it out yesterday — was made against him. Mr Wilson had nothing to do with the upcoming O’Higgins commission.
There was a note that Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson “were or are working together”.
Yesterday, Mr Marrinan suggested that the notes inferred there was “some form of collusion between the two of them [McCabe and Wilson].”
Most of the above matters had no basis in fact, and all of them were totally irrelevant to the upcoming O’Higgins commission. Put together they painted Sgt McCabe as an individual who was very different from the public figure being lauded by the Garda Commissioner.
A nefarious motive, rooted in the fall-out from the investigation into the colleague’s daughter, was being ascribed to the garda sergeant.
The lawyer pointed out to Mr Ruane that from the consultation “there’s a whole page of notes [that had nothing to do with the upcoming commission[, did it not strike you as peculiar that these matters were brought up?”
The witness replied that it was an attempt to brief the legal counsel on the background interpersonal issues between Sgt McCabe and other officers.
“They were matters questioning Sgt McCabe’s motivation,” Mr Marrinan persisted. “All of them were questioning his motivation?”
Mr Ruane replied that not all of them were questioning motivation.
Four days after the consultation, on the second day of hearings, the whole issue of Sgt McCabe’s motivation blew up in what Sgt McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell, described at the time as an ambush.
Yesterday, Mr McDowell, still representing Sgt McCabe, put the following to the witness: “The decision to impugn Sgt McCabe’s motivation flew in the face of everything the commissioner was doing on paper?”
Mr Ruane appeared to agree. “She would have been very much aware herself of the instructions she had given,” he said.
It’s difficult to escape the fact that in those days of April and May 2015, there were two approaches from garda HQ to Sgt McCabe. In public, he was a great guy. Behind closed doors, he was regarded as somebody who was bearing a grudge against the police force he had sworn to serve.
The commissioner is expected to give evidence later in the week.
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