Saturday 29 November 2014

State and media have failed whistleblowers

Snubbed for sticking his head above the parapet, Maurice McCabe is finally being vindicated

Published 11/05/2014 | 02:00

Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe. Picture: Tom Burke
Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe. Picture: Tom Burke

The pressure on Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family has been enormous. But last week brought them relief with the publication of a damning review of official reactions to his complaints about Garda malpractice.

McCabe has never tried to do more than the job that he is paid to do. He has not sought publicity except as a last resort, and has not tried to be a hero.

Senior Counsel Sean Guerin has now reported to the Taoiseach what others who looked closely at this affair have thought for some time, that McCabe is a decent man. Guerin spent four days locked in conversation with McCabe at Dunboyne Castle. McCabe felt that his complaints were finally receiving the attention that their seriousness merited, even if the interrogation by Guerin was sometimes tough and occasionally frosty. Guerin recorded the sessions.

Guerin says that he has seen “extensive documentation” that “gives cause for concern about the personal and professional consequences for Sergeant McCabe of his having made the complaints”. He also remarks on an absence of written records at the Department of Justice.

Guerin notes that: “The whistleblower, like the referee from whom he gets his name, is seen as someone who is not on the team.” And not being “on the team” is still a mortal sin in many Irish organisations, despite the fact that too many of these are clearly dysfunctional and greatly in need of reform. McCabe was snubbed by officialdom for what he did. He was not treated with respect.

Some journalists whose beat or area of interest should have meant that they were at the forefront of following up his allegations also failed to do so and at times sounded like mouthpieces for official sources.

Worse than that, during the 14 months that I have taken an interest in this story, I have had at least two senior journalists rubbish McCabe to me and repeat unfounded rumours and gossip about him.

The Sunday Independent, the Examiner and a couple of others kept on the case, but RTE News did not distinguish itself. However McCabe says that he appreciated Prime Time’s efforts to cover aspects of the whistle-blowers’ story.

Many politicians also looked the other way, with the honourable exception of Leo Varadkar, Mick Wallace and a handful of others. Fianna Fail took a long time to speak up. The Labour Party seemed more eager than Fine Gael to back Shatter and bury McCabe. 

That Shatter long remained in office after using confidential information on TV to smear an opponent was shocking.

Maurice McCabe takes no pleasure in what has happened.

He did not want a political circus. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the way that we do or view things in Ireland, it was only when the issue was politicised, firstly by independent deputies and then by Micheal Martin, that the media as a whole appeared to really sit up and take notice.

Even this past week, much political and media comment has centred on Alan Shatter’s manner. But this scandal is about a serious failure of policing and politics, and not principally about personalities. Instead of being promoted and put in charge of cleaning up bad practices, McCabe is restricted in his access to Garda systems.

He has also spent much of his money contesting people who are on the state’s bankroll and who were able to use public facilities to rubbish him.

As the affair now pans out into substantial hearings, he wonders how he can afford more time-off, expenses and legal advice on top of what he has already incurred personally.

He has had very bad experiences of officialdom, as when he wrote in explicit confidence to the Attorney General only to have his correspondence forwarded to his boss. It is remarkable that years after a computer was lost in a child abuse case, without having been analysed for evidence, disciplinary proceedings targeted McCabe when he was merely the local sergeant in charge of the station where the investigating team happened to have been based.

There remain unanswered questions about the failure to find and examine that computer, the steps taken or not taken to do so, and the implications of its loss. Not only those questions, but the timing and nature of the disciplinary enquiry against McCabe that eventually saw him exonerated, should form part of any commission of investigation that will now take place into this shameful scandal.

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