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Westmeath Topic played a key role in the historic handshake between Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Market Square in Mullingar on Monday.
It was the first time the pair met face-to-face and it followed the Taoiseach’s declaration in the Dáil that he had “no problem” making an apology to the Mullingar-based Gardaí.
However, Mr Kenny did not use the unexpected meeting to apologise to Sgt McCabe in person. Instead, they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coming together which was prompted by Topic.
Sgt McCabe was on duty in Mullingar when the Taoiseach arrived in town to assist Fine Gael in a brief by-election canvass of Mullingar. As Mr Kenny posed for photographs and spoke to reporters from both the national and local media at the Joe Dolan statue, no one apart from Topic seemed to notice that Sgt McCabe was standing a few yards away.
Mr Kenny himself did not notice Sgt McCabe, who was one of six uniformed Garda in the area, until Topic’s Ronan Casey intervened.
“Sgt McCabe is on duty here in Mullingar tonight, in fact he’s standing behind you on a traffic island,” said Casey. “Are you going to use the opportunity to meet him in person and apologise?”
The question clearly unnerved the Taoiseach, who hesitantly said he was here to help the party’s local and by-election campaign and wanted to pose for a photo beside “this great Mullingar man” Joe Dolan. Topic said Mr McCabe, who was keeping an eye on traffic from the small traffic island opposite Miller & Cook, was another great Mullingar man who deserved some attention.
After a minute of canvassing, the Taoiseach then summoned Topic’s Séamus Kiernan and Ronan Casey saying: “OK, I am going over here to say hello to Sgt McCabe” and he crossed the Square to the Garda.
Sgt McCabe smiled as the Taoiseach reached out to shake his hand.
The Taoiseach said: “Hello Sgt McCabe, how are you?” Sgt McCabe, smiling, nodded that he was well. The Taoiseach then asked Topic to stop recording and photographing their conversation.
“You can take those away, I’m just saying hello to the Sgt just as I do to every other member of the police force,” Mr Kenny quipped.
He then told Sgt McCabe it was good to see him on the beat. It was a warm and very brief meeting, but Sgt McCabe was certainly the happiest of the pair.
“Now there’s your answer,” Mr Kenny said to Topic as he went back on the local canvass trail.
Sgt McCabe, meanwhile, carried on with his duties, keeping an eye on the people surrounding the Taoiseach.
Last week, the Taoiseach said he had “no problem apologising” to Sgt McCabe for the way the government handled his warnings of Garda malpractice.
Mr Kenny said Sgt McCabe had been “vindicated” by the Guerin probe into his concerns about how serious crimes were investigated six years ago.
“I’ve already spoken of the importance and the right of people to bring issues to public notice that should be brought to public notice. So, in that regard, I have no problem in apologising to Sgt McCabe for the issues that he raised and for the fact that his raising these matters wasn’t dealt with more speedily,” he told the Dáil.
The Guerin Report heavily criticised former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, members of An Garda Síochána and its watchdog GSOC for not adequately investigating allegations of rogue policing.
The report said no official body was prepared to accept the word of Sgt McCabe, who risked his career in exposing Garda wrongdoings. Mr Shatter resigned after reading just a few pages of the report.
Morning Ireland‘s Rachel English discusses with Topic‘s Ronan Casey the inpromptu meeting between the Taoiseach and garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Audio courtesy of RTÉ.