By Dick Hogan, Editor
WHETHER Gda Cmmr. Noírín O’Sullivan’s ambition of seeing the Gardaí become “a beacon of 21st-century policing” under her leadership ever happens, we don’t know, but the Sgt Maurice McCabe affair will definitely be seen as the best example of how one man’s stance for principles and truth can have dramatic and far-reaching consequences for a great many people.
We often hear that ‘a week is a long time in politics’, but the extraordinary events since Wednesday last, 8 February, amply demonstrate that one day is sometimes just as long – especially when different Government members and others make statements all but contradicting one another.
What emerged this week is one of the most disturbing and worrying series of events in the history of An Garda Siochána – events which cannot but have far-reaching and long-term effects. Yet is is but the truth about a scandal of major proportions and the ill-treatment to which Mullingar based Garda Sgt. Maurice McCabe, his wife Lorraine and five children (who live in Co. Cavan) have been subjected for a decade, as the man tried to expose wrongdoing and abuse of power.
Without going into all details of the long-running Sgt. McCabe affair, what the McCabes had to say through their solicitor, this week, on 13 February, conveys the essence of what has been going on for eight years, after the Garda Sergeant transferred out of Bailieborough Garda Station, in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
There, in January 2006, he first made a complaint about a colleague, which resulted in a disciplinary action on the other garda. In December of that year, the disciplined man made a criminal complaint, alleging inappropriate behaviour by Sgt. McCabe towards his daughter. Sgt. McCabe asked that the allegation be investigated fully, and this saw the DPP conclude there were no grounds for prosecution.
In 2007/2008, Sgt. McCabe complained about the handling of suspected criminal offences in the division, and submitted a file to Garda authorities, suggesting malpractice and corruption. An investigation began in May-June of that year, the time when Sgt. McCabe transferred to Mullingar, where he has worked with the traffic corps in this Garda division. He has been on sick leave for some time.
It was in 2012 that Sgt McCabe’s concerns about the penalty points controversy, claiming well known people had points cancelled, and about internal handling of an assault allegation, led to his becoming the most high-profile whistleblower in the Gardaí.
Many will recall how in 2013, a report by Gda Asst. Commissioner O’Mahony found there “may have been a breach of rules regarding penalty points”, and the Commissioner Martin Callinan claimed there was “no evidence to suggest any criminality in cancellation of fixed charge notices”.
In October 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report supported the whistleblower’s claims re. the penalty points scandal. In January 2014, Cmmr. Callinan called the actions of garda whistleblowers “disgusting” – causing a political and public storm – added to by the revelations the same month by PAC chairman, John McGuinness TD, that he met Cmmr. Callinan privately in a carpark, and heard complaints about Sgt. McCabe from the police chief.
In March 2014, the Garda Inspectorate reported widespread breaches of policy on the penalty points, followed on 25 March by the Garda Commissioner’s resignation, after he was visited late at night by the Department of Justice Secretary General. Cmmr. Callinan later said this visit directly led to his decision to retire.
The Sean Guerin SC independent review, set up that February, in a 337 page report on 9 May, 2014, totally vindicated the allegations made by the whistleblowers, and called for a comprehensive Commission of Investigation, stating, “it is desirable in the public interest to ensure continuing confidence in the institution of An Garda Siochána and the criminal justice system.”
The Guerin report went through 12 separate matters highlighted by Sgt. McCabe – most of them involving criminal cases, not properly investigated, with scant regard for the victims. Victims of serious assault and possible sexual assault were ignored, other complaints were mishandled, and procedures and rules entirely ignored.
“In any internal investigation, there appears to be if not an instinctive, at least a routine preference for the evidence of the senior officers in respect of whom complaints had been made,” commented Guerin.
Regarding the Department of Justice, Guerin said there “is cause for concern as to the adequacy of the investigation of the complaints by Sgt. McCabe to the Minister for Justice and Equality” and “as to whether all appropriate steps were taken by the Minister… to address specific complaints.”