Monday 24 October 2016

Sent asleep by Acceptable Explanation

There is so much that is obviously fishy about 'the garda stuff', but, ah, sure, it'll do, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

Something odd just happened. You look at the sequence of events and – well, it's just odd. All this garda stuff – the way it just evaporated. There are things about that – well, I just don't understand. My stupidity, no doubt. Still . . .

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On top of this, the Dail was openly misled by the Minister for Justice – everyone knows it, but that's alright. It's okay with the political establishment. And the media establishment. And the Irish people seem quite okay with it, too.

First, let's look at that sequence of events. And then let's look at why so many of us can shrug and move on – about this, and about so much else that's questionable in public life.

Back in 2012, Garda John Wilson and Sergeant Maurice McCabe, acting in the public interest, first alerted the political establishment to the penalty point wipeouts. Now, there were a lot of other controversies – assaults, the attempted abduction of a five-year-old girl, the murder of a 33-year-old woman – but the allegations of a golden circle benefiting from penalty point wipeouts is not trivial.

Wilson and McCabe complained to the Garda Confidential Recipient in March 2012. McCabe wrote to Enda Kenny about this in July, August and September. Kenny passed the buck to Alan Shatter.

On October 19, Shatter's department wrote to Garda Commissioner Callinan about the penalty points issue. Twelve days later, Callinan appointed Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney to do a report. Being an efficent police officer, A/C O'Mahoney had a preliminary report to the Commissioner on November 28 – that is, in less than a month.

Having complained eight months earlier, without response, Wilson and McCabe gave the penalty points material to Clare

Daly TD in December 2012. She and Joan Collins TD raised it under Dail privilege.

Three days later, there was a press release stating that Garda Commissioner Callinan had appointed Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney to investigate the claims made about the penalty points system.

Now, according to O'Mahoney, he was appointed two months earlier and had delivered a preliminary report a month before the announcement that he'd been appointed. Perhaps I'm missing something.

One week later, Chief Superintendent Mark Curran was dispatched to Mullingar garda station to read a direction to McCabe, from the Garda Commissioner – that he was banned from using the Garda Pulse system, the computer programme now crucial to day-to-day Garda work.

In addition, he was banned from passing any information on the penalty point matter to any third party, even the Taoiseach. "Such matters can be brought to the attention of Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony, Crime and Security, who will fully investigate those matters."

About six weeks later, while driving, Clare Daly TD was stopped, handcuffed and taken to a garda station. A sample was taken and someone informed the media, who had a field day – along with the folk on various social media – insinuating and downright stating that Daly was a drunk driver. By the time the results arrived, showing she had passed with flying colours, Daly had been grossly smeared.

On March 28 2013, Commissioner Callinan received his final report from A/C O'Mahoney. The report effectively answered some of the complaints. Others – not so much. For instance, a report from the Garda Professional Standards Unit showed senior gardai persistently and unlawfully evading a computer mechanism that was supposed to log reasons for wiping points. There's no evidence that O'Mahoney knew this.

Four weeks later, presumably unaware that the inquiry was done and dusted, Sergeant McCabe wrote to Enda Kenny, wondering why he – as the complainant – hadn't yet been interviewed for this inquiry.

Four weeks after that, the O'Mahoney Report was published. Alan Shatter went on TV and used a nugget of information to smear a political opponent – Mick Wallace. The information, gathered months earlier by rank and file gardai, was provided to Shatter by Commissioner Callinan.

On January 23 of this year, at the Public Accounts Committee, Mary Lou McDonald asked A/C O'Mahoney why he hadn't interviewed Sergeant McCabe. He replied that the complaints were "unsigned and unattributed. I proceeded with my examination on the basis I was dealing with anonymous allegations."

He didn't know who the complainant was. So, how could he question him?

And when writing his report, A/C O'Mahoney didn't use the term "complainant" – he used the term "anonymous author". He used it 82 times, on page after page, as though to hammer home the message.

It suggests that, as of March last, no one told O'Mahoney who the whistleblower was. He still believed him to be some "anonymous author".

But – well, it's just that I'm puzzled. Don't they talk to each other, those senior gardai? O'Mahoney is appointed on 31 October 2012 – and he gives his final report to Callinan on 28 March 2013. And throughout these five months he's hoping the "anonymous author" will get in touch. He doesn't say to Commissioner Callinan, "Ah, Commish, it's so frustrating – I mean, if only I knew who this guy was!"

And Callinan could have said, right up to the end of March 2013, "Well, his name is Maurice McCabe and he's in Mullingar station, where I sent Chief Super Curran three months ago, to read him my direction about the Pulse system."

And – here's the truly, truly odd thing – Sergeant McCabe first got into a tangle with the upper layers of the force as far back as 2008, as he tried to alert them to various alleged investigative failings involving serious crime. Maybe I've got a Sherlock complex, but if it was me I'd be sniffing around, putting two and two together. Hey, you guys, does anyone think that maybe the fella who – But, apparently, that's not how it works in real life.

Then, Alan Shatter told the Dail that Sergeant McCabe and Garda Wilson wouldn't co-operate with the inquiry. Remember, McCabe is the guy who's emailing the Taoiseach, saying: "Hey, I wanna co-operate, why don't they interview me?"

Why has the political establishment now closed the book on all this? Well, confrontation – it's so, y'know, messy, right? And in this country we have what we might call the Acceptable Explanation. Haughey, for instance, lived a millionaire lifestyle. "Ah, sure, he got a good deal when he sold his house 30 years ago." The Acceptable, if risible, Explanation.

Oodles of cash turn up in Ahern's accounts. "Ah, sure, he got a dig-out, didn't he?" But, this was dollars and sterling and –

"Ah, now, leave the poor man alone, he gave the Acceptable Explanation." A transparently inadequate one, but, hey, this is Ireland.

Enda, before seeing any evidence, diverts attention from the bugging of GSOC by quoting a piece of legislation that doesn't exist. "Ah, sure, he just used the wrong word, like, y'know." The Acceptable Explanation.

And how do we get out of the fix Alan got us into? Blackguarding a garda sergeant, claiming he refused to co-operate? Alan came up with an Acceptable Explanation. "There was fault on both sides." Sighs of relief all round. Sure, nobody's perfect. Fault on both sides – that'll do.

Anything to avoid confrontation. Just. Shut. Up. Except – I can see what Shatter did wrong. But I'm damned if I can see where the fault lies with McCabe or Wilson.

Sunday Independent

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