Terms of reference will be published today for a probe headed by Judge Peter Charlton into an alleged smear campaign against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. Special correspondent, Michael Clifford, reflects on who else may be damaged in the ongoing pursuit of truth in this case.
THE truth comes dripping slowly. There has always been two parts to the Maurice McCabe story.
The first involves his complaints about malpractice within An Garda Siochana. This malpractice took different forms, including poor and shoddy policing, the covering-up of poor and shoddy policing, the ill-serving of victims of crime, and disregard for road safety through the abuse of the penalty points system.
Much of that has been dealt with, mainly through Sgt McCabe’s persistence and courage. He was also assisted along the way by politicians such as Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, John McGuinness, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin.
Whether Martin and even McGuinness would have lent McCabe an ear had they been in government is a moot point. But those who were in power — with the possible exception of Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar — were slow enough to take interest in what McCabe was exposing.
The second part to the Maurice McCabe story is every bit, if not more, disturbing than the substance of what he blew the whistle on.
What lengths did some elements within An Garda Siochana go to in an attempt to assassinate his character?
Was there a campaign at the highest level of the force to destroy this turbulent cop?
What form did any such campaign take?
The allegations around this episode go way beyond any attempt to paint McCabe as a malcontent. According to Supt David Taylor, who has made a protected disclosure on the matter, there was a concerted effort to destroy McCabe, to completely assassinate his character, to render him a person with absolutely no reputation.
Now there is to be a commission of investigation, chaired by Judge Peter Charlton, to examine whether there was a concerted effort to destroy McCabe. The terms of reference, to be published today, will give some hint as to whether there is a reasonable chance of getting to the truth.
The attempt to burrow down to the facts has got off to a good start with the choice of chairman. Judge Charlton was a senior counsel for the Morris Tribunal, which examined garda malpractice in Donegal. He knows how the bodies can be buried.
He knows that the average guard is decent and honourable, but that pressure can do strange things to a man or woman, and that the dust kicked up by circling wagons can blur any sense of right and wrong.
There have been a few hints as to the extent gone to in order to bury McCabe and the truth he was attempting to have examined.
There was the business over the computer seized from a priest who was convicted of child sex abuse offences. The computer went missing. The priest’s bishop came looking for it, and guess who got fingered with the blame?
McCabe was subjected to a disciplinary process that went on for 18 months, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the missing computer. He managed to defend himself with a little help from a friend inside the force.
The O’Higgins Commission reported that it was understandable that McCabe felt this was an attempt to wreak some form of reprisal on him for whistleblowing, but the commission found no actual evidence that he was set up.
Still, can you image the headlines if McCabe hadn’t been on the ball — ‘The whistleblower and the child porn computer’? How many politicians of any hue would have shown interest in him after that? What would the average person think of somebody who was mixed up with child pornography?
If McCabe’s suspicions were correct then this was a vile attempt to assassinate his character.
“Vile” was the word used by Mr McGuinness to describe the false stories being peddled about McCabe in 2014 when the politician met then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan in a carpark.
“Every effort was made to those within the Garda Siochana at senior level to discredit Garda Maurice McCabe,” McGuinness told the Dáil last May.
“The Garda Commissioner confided in me in a carpark on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.”
McGuinness, who had by then met McCabe, dismissed the commissioner’s concerns. He simply did not believe what the head of the police force was telling him about one of his officers.
There is an allegation that there was an attempt within the O’Higgins Commission — which was examining McCabe’s claims of malpractice — to discredit him. This originated with comments from the barrister acting for Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan that he intended to attack McCabe and question his motives “all the way”.
O’Sullivan has denied that she issued any such instructions. If this were an isolated incident, it might credibly be dismissed. But it is not isolated, and the evidence produced in this newspaper and elsewhere suggests that there is a case to answer as to whether McCabe’s character was targeted in the commission. Any attempt to access the truth in the forthcoming inquiry will have to examine what happened in O’Higgins.
All of these happenings may be coincidences, if you believe in such things. All are also small potatoes compared to the allegations contained within the protected disclosures on which the forthcoming commission is based.
The main witness will be Supt Taylor. He was head of the Garda press office in 2013-14 when the main element of an alleged campaign against McCabe was underway. He has made a protected disclosure outlining his role in briefing against McCabe to the media, and what he alleges was the participation and knowledge of all senior management, including the current commissioner, of the campaign.
Among his allegations is that an intelligence file on McCabe had been established, something that is usually reserved for serious criminals.
O’Sullivan has denied any knowledge of a smear campaign.
Taylor has been suspended for 21 months now on an allegation concerning the release of information to the media, a relatively minor matter compared to what he has admitted to in his disclosure.
By contrast, Justice Minister Francis Fitzgerald has suggested that there is no requirement for the commissioner to stand aside while Judge Charlton’s inquiry is conducted, despite calls for her to do so.
“These are allegations and there is no prima facia case against anyone,” the minister said yesterday. So allegations against a superintendent require him to step aside — on reduced pay — while an investigation is conducted, yet a commissioner can just carry on while even more serious allegations are examined.
The truth has come dripping slowly, and it remains to be seen who else may be damaged on its descent.
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