Friday 28 October 2016

Shooting the messengers for doing their jobs

Far from impropriety, Connolly gave McCabe's concerns the respectful hearing they deserved

Published 23/02/2014 | 02:30

Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe arriving for the private session of the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House Picture
Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe arriving for the private session of the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House Picture

Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, sacked Oliver Connolly allegedly because the lawyer had an "inappropriate conversation", which he wouldn't "repudiate". The conversation was with garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe. This dramatic move was backed by the Taoiseach, who revealed it to the Oireachtas in a manner that suggested regrettable behaviour by the lawyer, who had to be "relieved of his duties".

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Having twice reviewed a transcript of the conversation, I cannot find in it a single sentence that is in any way "inappropriate". And the notion of "repudiating" it is odd – does that mean saying it didn't happen? Or that what was said was untrue?

The recording of the conversation, and the resulting transcript, are not of first quality. There are inaudible passages and patchy sections. It's an inconclusive and somewhat disorganised conversation, a chat over coffee. The lawyer does not appear to have done anything that warranted reprimand, let alone sacking.

Mr Connolly, an associate and political supporter of Shatter, came to public notice when the minister appointed him to be the "confidential recipient" – the person to whom a garda can go when that garda has information about alleged wrongdoing within the force. The "recipient" then passes the information to the garda authorities, for investigation, while maintaining the confidentiality of the whistleblower.

It isn't simply a messenger job, the passing on of an envelope. The Statutory Instrument under which Mr Connolly was appointed says the recipient must ensure that the complaint is made "in good faith for the purpose of exposing the alleged corruption or malpractice". And that the information is "in such form as the confidential recipient may require" – ie, not a whispered grievance or a scribbled gripe about an annoying senior officer.

The post, therefore, requires the recipient to engage with the whistleblower, to advise on the documentation and format required, to help any credible complainant to take any credible complaint through the system. This would of necessity require conversations about any questions or fears the complainant needs resolved.

No one has suggested that Sergeant McCabe isn't a credible complainant. Whether he is right or wrong is for the process to decide, but it's apparent that Mr Connolly believed Sergeant McCabe's allegations deserved respectful treatment.

The transcript shows the conversation between Mr Connolly and Maurice McCabe to be about how the whistleblower should proceed, at a time when he believed, rightly or wrongly, that the authorities – including the minister and the Garda Commissioner – were not responding adequately to his claims. It's a conversation between two adults, about complex matters, in which McCabe fears a cover-up and Connolly is seeking to advise him on how best to proceed.

For a couple of years, Sergeant McCabe has been trying to raise these matters with the authorities. He has used the required procedures, he has sought help from senior politicians, all to no avail.

The transcript shows that among the issues he raised were the crimes of Jerry McGrath – a man who seriously assaulted a woman in Cavan, tried to abduct a five-year-old child in Tipperary, and then murdered a woman, Sylvia Roche Kelly, in Limerick. McCabe believed that Garda failures left McGrath free to kill, after an obviously disturbed man was twice granted bail, having been arrested when caught red-handed committing two violent crimes. Elsewhere in the transcript, McCabe believes lessons weren't learned, and that people who might have been reprimanded were instead promoted.

In the transcript, McCabe speaks of widespread malpractice: "What do you do with all the falsification of records? What do I do with them? What do I do with the hundreds of cases that haven't been investigated? What do I do with innocent people being set up?"

Later: "Do I go back and assault the public and not investigate things and hide evidence and destroy records?"

The attitude of the authorities, McCabe says in the transcript, suggests that "it's okay to falsify records, it's okay a lady was killed – Sylvia Roche Kelly – we can do all that, we don't have to investigate any cases any more. We don't have to investigate assaults, abductions, kidnappings, sexual assault, we just leave it. And if there is any investigation we will cover up". Sergeant McCabe provided the authorities with documents which he claimed supported him on these matters. Again, this is not to say that Sergeant McCabe's view is right – that is to be determined when his evidence is examined – it is to say that a credible complainant felt that nothing effective had been done after two years of effort on his part.

There's nothing "inappropriate" in Oliver Connolly's response to Sergeant McCabe. But it's easy to see why Alan Shatter might have found some of the lawyer's remarks "inappropriate".

"You need to be careful of him," Connolly said, referring to Shatter. "You have to say you respect him as a minister." Connolly was a longtime friend and associate of Shatter. This reading of the minister's touchiness will not strike many as terribly inaccurate.

"If Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished." This was read out in the Dail on 5 February by Mick Wallace. Some got the impression that this was Connolly inappropriately warning off a whistleblower, trying to shut him up by warning him the minister would go after him.

In context, the opposite is the case. The line about "you are finished" is prefaced by a warning that it would be a mistake to leak to the media – that this would irritate Shatter and cause him to think McCabe is trying to do him down. Connolly suggested that McCabe find a way to get the matter into court. "Use the public forum of the courts." Then: "If stuff was to get out into the public, the print media, it must only come from what happens in the courtroom."

The transcript shows Connolly and McCabe as adults, seeking a way to approach officialdom about a grim set of circumstances too long neglected. And to do so without getting on the bad side of a notoriously touchy minister.

Nothing inappropriate, nothing to repudiate.

Sunday Independent

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