In testimony to the Disclosures Tribunal, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said that he had had conversations with Sergeant Maurice McCabe on a number of occasions, and was keen for the PAC to look into his claims about penalty points. He chaired the meeting on 23 January during which Callinan made the now infamous ‘disgusting’ comment.
McGuinness said that after the PAC meetings it was customary to talk with witnesses, thanking them for their evidence and so on.
On that particular day . . . as I approached the garda commissioner, he immediately went into a story telling me about an incident involving [whistleblower] John Wilson . . . and [said] the other fella fiddles with kids; they’re the kind of fucking headbangers I’m dealing with’.
McGuinness said he assumed the ‘fella fiddles with kids’ reference was aimed at Maurice McCabe.
He agreed to meet with Callinan the following day at Bewley’s Hotel, Newlands Cross, and was surprised that they met not in the hotel but in the car park. Callinan agrees that this meeting took place, though the two have different accounts of what subsequently transpired.
According to McGuinness,
Mr Callinan stated to me that Mr McCabe had sexually abused someone and that he was not a credible person. Mr Callinan stated that an investigation into Mr McCabe’s activities was underway . . . (he) then asked me was I aware that Mr McCabe had sexually abused family members.
He testified that Callinan told him that there was a ‘file’ on McCabe and that he would be facing criminal charges. No charges have been brought. The Commissioner went on to tell him that he had made a grave error in relation to the PAC and, because of this, he could find himself in serious trouble. Callinan denies having said anything of the sort to McGuinness.
McGuinness remembers being ‘troubled’ because of the possibility that Callinan was telling the truth. He worried that if he [McGuinness] had been wrong about McCabe the PAC may be ‘brought into disrepute’:
Lots of questions ran through my mind about how it had all come to this, and what would happen from here. I was deeply upset over what I was hearing. And deeply troubled by the fact that so many in high places were trying to stop that hearing from going ahead.
The tribunal also saw notes that McGuinness had scribbled down on his way home from the meeting.
Fine Gael TD John Deasy was a member of the Public Accounts Committee hearing evidence in the penalty points case. He testified that Callinan was vehemently opposed to McCabe giving evidence to the PAC, because of his concerns over possible data protection issues. He said that when he met Callinan on his way to the committee, the Commissioner told him that Maurice McCabe was not to be believed or trusted with anything. Again, Callinan denies saying this.
Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy who, in his official position, had upheld many of the complaints made by McCabe about fixed charge penalty notices, also said he spoke with Callinan on his way into the PAC:
I met [Callinan] in the lobby. . . . My recollection is that the Commissioner came forward to have a word with me. . . . We began just with sort of normal greetings but very quickly the Commissioner raised Sergeant McCabe’s name in the conversation, along the lines that Sergeant McCabe is not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer and that there were sexual offence allegations against him.
Once again, Callinan denies saying any of this to McCarthy.
In his testimony to the Tribunal, Supt David Taylor, former head of the garda press office, alleges that he was told by Commissioner Martin Callinan to brief the media with negative information about Sgt McCabe. Taylor remembers Commissioner Callinan telling him that McCabe was ‘driven by revenge’, because of an allegation of sexual abuse made against him by the daughter of a colleague. Taylor said he believed this to be the truth at the time and that he briefed nine journalists accordingly. Most of the nine were crime correspondents. He further testified that he passed the allegations along in person and had kept no records, leaving no paper trail—although there is some dispute over this.
Some of the journalists that Taylor said he briefed deny categorically that he did any such thing. Others have claimed journalistic privilege. The question here is whether journalists who depend for a large part of their careers on their confidential garda informant(s) would be willing to ‘rat them out’.
A former reporter with the Daily Mirror, Cathal McMahon, told the inquiry he had heard about the [sexual abuse] allegation in early 2014. ‘He says he rang Taylor, who confirmed it to him and suggested he could go up to Cavan to meet Miss D [the complainant]’. McMahon’s editor, John Kerins, binned the idea. Taylor agreed that he had briefed McMahon, but denied telling him to travel to Cavan (irishexaminer.com here).
Other journalists agreed that they had been briefed negatively about Sgt McCabe. Broadcast journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, co-host at that time of RTE’s Crime Call, testified that Callinan had told him that McCabe had ‘well-known issues’, ‘psychiatric issues’, ‘psychological issues’ and that he had done ‘horrific things . . . the worst kind of things’, but didn’t go into further detail. ‘I knew there was no suggestion of either murder or genocide . . . I assumed it was child sexual abuse or rape, perhaps.’
I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt it was a smokescreen that was being deflected on the penalty points issue.
He went on to say that Callinan closed the conversation by saying to him that if he wanted to know more, he should ask David Taylor. Callinan denies smearing McCabe to Boucher-Hayes.
So much for the ‘new layer of public accountability and transparency to the administration and oversight of policing’ promised by Frances Fitzgerald in 2014. Not to mention the ‘pillar of integrity’ that was to greatly reinforce public confidence in the working of our police services. Somebody didn’t get the memo.
The confluence of events around the whistleblower controversy could be Drew Harris’ perfect storm, in which the likelihoods of sinking or swimming are about equal. He could either be the lamest Commissioner ever or the new broom that swept away the ‘old ways’ and brought the Garda into the twenty-first century.
He didn’t get off to a good start. His response to the use of masked gardai supporting masked and unidentified private-security operatives at the eviction of peaceful protesters from a building on North Frederick Street was seriously inadequate. His silence on the appearance of armed gardaí at the eviction of a homeless family with two children from a B&B where they had lived for nine months was ear-splitting. I’ll wait and see his reaction to the reports from the Disclosures tribunal and from the Commission on the Future of Policing before commenting further.
The ravelling/unravelling has already started; the process will be thrust into hyper-drive when the Disclosures Tribunal reports. The coincidental release of the report from the Commission on the Future of Policing could either help or hinder him, depending on how he manages to spin the current mess. Welcome to the Republic, Mr Harris.
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