Sunday 23 October 2016

'I’m going to hit this guy' - Tense meeting between garda whistleblowers

The fallout from the Garda whistleblower scandal is far from over as Commissioner O'Sullivan is about to find out

Published 09/10/2016 | 19:59

Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan (Left) and Superintendent Dave Taylor (right)
Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan (Left) and Superintendent Dave Taylor (right)

GARDA Sergeant Maurice McCabe looked across at Superintendent Dave Taylor in disbelief. The two gardai had been speaking for more than three hours and McCabe could not believe what he was hearing.

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The country’s most recognisable whistleblower had been through the mill over the last few years and knew there was a smear campaign against him within the force.

He knew his credibility was being called into question by some of his colleagues when he decided to go public with his allegations of quashed penalty points and misconduct in the force.

But, as he sat opposite Taylor over cups of tea in the former head of the Garda Press Office’s home in north Dublin, the only thing going through McCabe’s mind was: “I’m going to hit this guy”.

Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe (Picture: Tom Burke)
Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe (Picture: Tom Burke)

Taylor, who is currently suspended from the force due to an ongoing investigation into claims he leaked confidential garda information, did all the talking. McCabe just listened.

The Superintendent claimed he was central to an orchestrated campaign sanctioned by the highest level of An Garda Siochana to discredit McCabe.

Taylor was brutally honest and became emotional at times during the conversation.

“We hated you,” he told McCabe.

He claimed an intelligence file was created on McCabe in Garda Headquarters under the name ‘Oisin’ and details of the garda’s private and professional life were collated.

Taylor said three phones, which are currently in garda custody as part of the investigation into leaks, held the evidence to back up his claims.

NOT OVER YET: Superintendent Dave Taylor, who has been on sick leave since April Picture: Colin Keegan
NOT OVER YET: Superintendent Dave Taylor, who has been on sick leave since April Picture: Colin Keegan

He said the phones contained chains of text messages outlining the plot to target McCabe by spreading vicious lies about the whistleblower and his family.

The texts were sent to senior gardai, members of the media, and prominent politicians.

The allegations could never be printed due to the defamatory nature of the claims, but they spread like wildfire in political and garda circles.

No matter how many times independent investigations proved McCabe’s claims were correct, there was always a cloud over his reputation.

Taylor told McCabe he regretted the role he played in spreading the rumours but insisted he was acting under instruction.

He claimed former garda commissioner Martin Callinan knew what was going on, as did his successor Noirin O’Sullivan, who was then a deputy commissioner.

McCabe was fuming.

After he left and calmed down, McCabe called Taylor a few days later to tell him he was going to make a protected disclosure under whistleblower legislation.

Taylor took legal advice and decided he would also send a disclosure setting out his allegations to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The two gardai sent separate statements to Ms Fitzgerald two weeks ago and on Friday, the Tanaiste announced the establishment of a statutory inquiry into the claims of a smear campaign against McCabe.

During their first meeting, Taylor also opened up about the ordeal he had been through while suspended from the force.

Taylor was close to Martin Callinan and was regularly sent out to bat for his boss throughout the litany of controversies which led to the commissioner’s downfall.

He was sitting behind the former Garda Commissioner when he described McCabe’s actions as “disgusting” during a Public Accounts Committee hearing.

He was moved to the Traffic Division soon after Callinan retired and Noirin O’Sullivan was appointed.

This was widely seen as a demotion by Taylor’s colleagues, who knew a garda of his experience would not be happy working in traffic.

In February 2015, Detective Superintendent James McGowan, who is Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband, came into Taylor’s office in Dublin Castle and seized his phone and laptop on foot of a bench warrant.

Two months later, Taylor found himself down in his local garda station where he was arrested over claims he leaked information to a journalist about a Roma child taken into custody over fears she had been kidnapped.

It turned out that the child was wrongly taken from her parents following a spurious complaint from a neighbour, and a Children’s Ombudsman report was extremely critical of the garda investigation into the matter.

In a sworn affidavit submitted as part of a High Court action seeking to quash the investigation into the leak, Taylor claimed his arrest was aimed at humiliating and ridiculing him.

He said the gardai who detained him were unnecessarily heavy handed given the nature of the crime he was alleged to have committed.

Taylor said the investigation and subsequent suspension has led to his health deteriorating and he suffered panic attacks, breathlessness, headaches and feelings of pressure.

McCabe has also been on sick leave since April. He got a sick cert from his doctor citing work-related stress just before the publication of Justice Kevin O’Higgins’s Commission of Investigation into his claims of garda malpractice.

The inquiry was supposed to herald a new dawn of transparency in the force and McCabe went into the process singing the praises of Commissioner O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan had also publicly commended McCabe for exposing failings in An Garda Siochana.

However, behind the closed doors of the inquiry room in Smithfield, Dublin, it was a different story.

O’Sullivan’s legal team told the judge they were tasked by the commissioner with testing McCabe’s credibility and motivation for making allegations against his own colleagues.

Some would say this is fair enough as the garda sergeant’s allegations needed to be rigorously tested given the seriousness of the accusations.

McCabe’s legal team, however, believed the robust questioning was not in the spirit of the investigation and argued against the approach.

More concerning though was a claim by two gardai that McCabe told them during a meeting in Mullingar Garda Station that his allegations were based on a personal grudge against a senior officer.

Luckily for McCabe he had a recording of the conversation which completely rubbished the claim by gardai that he was motivated by malice towards colleagues.

The O’Higgins Report was critical of some actions taken by McCabe but in general it recognised the personal cost he endured in coming forward with his allegations.

The controversy surrounding the inquiry put the Commissioner on the backfoot and she found herself fighting a public relations battle.

The Garda scandals should have been put to bed at this stage, but Government ministers found themselves being asked to publicly express confidence in the Commissioner.

And that wasn’t the end of it. John McGuinness, Fianna  Fail’s former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), took to the floor of the Dail to make further accusations about the treatment of McCabe by senior officers.

McGuinness claimed the then garda commissioner Martin Callinan asked to have  a discreet meeting ahead of McCabe’s appearance before the PAC to discuss quashed penalty points.

So discreet was the meeting that it took place in the car park of Bewley’s Hotel on the Naas Road in Dublin.

The date was January 24 2014 — the eve of the first anniversary of Garda Adrian Donohoe’s murder by a gang holding up a credit union in Dundalk.

Callinan spoke at a press conference marking the occasion that day, but he had other things on his mind.

Speaking in the Dail in May, McGuinness said: “The garda commissioner confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.” He described the accusations levelled against McCabe as vile and said they were made to discredit the whistleblower.

Callinan has never spoken publicly about these accusations and has so far yet to address the claims made by his former confidant Superintendent Dave Taylor.

Noirin O’Sullivan has denied any knowledge of Callinan’s meeting with McGuinness and last week issued a statement insisting she was not involved in any campaign to smear McCabe.

She also listened as Opposition politicians once again called for her resignation and ministers responded by expressing confidence in her.

The Commissioner now faces being called before another judge- led inquiry and this time she will be the star witness.

There is also the small matter of a minor revolt among senior officers bubbling beneath the surface in Garda Headquarters, of which the Commissioner will be all too aware as she battles to bring the latest whistleblower fiasco under control.

Today’s revelations about the gross mismanagement of public funds by the Garda College in Templemore will add to her worries.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald is eager to act quick and memories of former justice minister Alan Shatter’s fall from grace in the wake of Callinan’s sudden retirement are surely to the fore of her mind.

O’Sullivan will know Taylor, more than any other garda, knows where the bodies are buried during Garda scandals. Whether he has the evidence to link them to the sitting Commissioner remains to be seen.

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