‘I had no problem with McCabe but I think he had one with me’

There was another issue aired at the Charleton Tribunal yesterday, and once again it did not fall in favour of Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Superintendent Noel Cunningham arrives to give evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Pic: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

This time it was about a chance foregone to clear up any misunderstanding about a false allegation made against Sgt McCabe.

It involved a figure who has featured at various junctures in McCabe’s journey from sergeant-in-charge of Bailieborough to garda whistleblower, admired in some quarters, not in others.

Superintendent Noel Cunningham acted as district officer for periods while McCabe was sergeant-in-charge in the mid-2000s. Then, in 2006, when the daughter of a colleague — known as Ms D — made a historic allegation against McCabe, Cunningham was appointed to investigate. It was not a job any local guard would have relished.

Supt Cunningham did so reluctantly. Ultimately, he found McCabe had no case to answer. The local state solicitor found the allegation to consist of “horseplay and nothing more in a house full of children with four adults in proximity”.

The matter was closed, but Supt Cunningham feels that McCabe’s attitude towards him changed in the aftermath of the investigation.

“I never had a falling out with Maurice McCabe,” he told the tribunal. “I don’t believe I’ve ever said a bad word to him or about him. I don’t engage in personalities, its unprofessional and not of any value.

“I have no difficulty with him but I think he may have a difficulty with me as a result of the investigation.”

That was the first of a number of occasions in his evidence in which Supt Cunningham referenced his own capacity to ignore personal animus and his own professionalism.

He claimed Sgt McCabe had an “input” into complaints that were made about him in the years after the investigation. None of these complaints, he said, were upheld.

Then, in 2013, a letter arrived in his office from a HSE social worker, Keara McGlone, about his nearly seven-year-old investigation. The allegation had resurfaced when Ms D attended counselling. The social worker wanted to meet with Supt Cunningham about the case before contacting Sgt McCabe.

This matter has taken on greater significance because, as a result of the counselling, a completely erroneous allegation was generated in an administrative mistake.

Now, instead of horseplay, McCabe was being accused of being a child rapist. This detail was not contained in the letter to Supt Cunningham. The mistake would persist within Tusla/HSE files for another eight months, and cause major fall-out within the agency and for the McCabe family.

Supt Cunningham didn’t reply to the letter.

“You appreciate that if you had replied, the subsequent debacle may not have occurred,” tribunal counsel Patrick Marrinan put to him.

The witness didn’t accept that.

He told the tribunal he’d been on extended leave around that time, and also had a major workload because of cutbacks. The case was not “live” so, while he has no recollection, he presumes he set it aside to be addressed, but never got back to it.

He said he had been “ultra careful” by filing the letter with the original file. If he hadn’t been “ultra-careful”, it would have ended up in the office and a staff member would have reminded him that it required a response.

“It was my misfortune that I was ultra-careful,” he said.

The counsel put to him the big question.

“There is a suggestion that you simply ignored this letter because this matter would be allowed to remain in HSE/Tusla so it could just fester there until an appointment was made with Sergeant McCabe and cause him some hardship?”

Supt Cunningham replied: “I totally and absolutely refute any suggestion of that.”

He was asked whether Sgt McCabe was a thorn in his side.

“I don’t harbour those kind of feelings, judge,” he said.

Garda Detective Superintendent Tony Howard at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

He was pushed further on his failure to respond to the letter by Sgt McCabe’s lawyer, Michael McDowell.

“You knew that Sergeant McCabe was a person of note within the gardaí at this stage,” Mr McDowell put to him. Supt Cunningham replied that there was nothing that would have jogged his memory about the letter.

“He wasn’t taking over my life, Maurice wasn’t on my mind day in day out.”

Mr McDowell also referred to the wider context of the times.

The previous day, journalist Paul Williams had said there were rumours at the time about an allegation against Sgt McCabe.

There had been suggestions that there was knowledge in garda headquarters and among some politicians that there was an allegation.

Had anybody, at this time when Sgt McCabe was all over the media, and not well regarded in some quarters, asked Supt Cunningham about that investigation way back when?

“I don’t believe anybody contacted me about the investigation and if they had I wouldn’t have discussed it,” he said.

He pointed out that he had been extremely busy at the time, putting in a 16-hour day on one occasion when he arrived back from a break.

Neither had he time for rumours. There were plenty of those swirling about Sgt McCabe — scurrilous and untrue — but Supt Cunningham testified that he hadn’t heard them.

He will finish his evidence on this module today, but Supt Cunningham is expected to feature as a witness in a later module into whether or not there were attempts to blacken Sgt McCabe’s character at the O’Higgins commission.

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