Monday 24 October 2016

The response that sneers and belittles

Why is Alan Shatter allowing an untrue statement by the Garda chief to stand?

Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Picture: Steve Humphreys

WHY did the Garda Commissioner issue a statement saying something that isn't true? Why are we pretending that hasn't happened? Why, by his silence on the matter, does the Minister for Justice let lie a statement that he knows, or ought to know, is untrue? Why is the Taoiseach acting in the same way, by his silence on the matter protecting the right of the Garda Commissioner to issue an untrue statement?

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Richard Bruton is the only cabinet minister in town. Why did he in the Dail, in explicit terms, endorse the Garda Commissioner's statement when he knew, or should have known, that it was untrue?

It was immediately pointed out, by journalists and others, that the statement is untrue, but the political establishment seems reluctant to admit this and to accept the consequences. So, they stonewall. Sure, it doesn't really matter what the man said – big deal. Ignore it and it'll go away.

Before we go any further, let us – tedious though this may be – state plainly the irrefutable evidence that the Garda Commissioner issued an untrue statement on a matter of consequence.

The untrue statement.

"There is one other matter that I would like to address and which has been in the public domain for some time and which refers to the use of the term disgusting at my recent Public Accounts Committee appearance on the 23rd January 2014. I want to clarify that my use of that term was not in reference to the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson, but the manner in which personal and sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures."

The evidence.

Thursday, January 23, the Commissioner before the Public Accounts Committee: "We have two people, out of a force of over 13,000, who are making extraordinary and serious allegations. There is not a whisper anywhere else or from any other member of the Garda Siochana, however, about this corruption, malpractice and other charges levelled against their fellow officers. Frankly, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting."

Shortly afterwards, at that PAC meeting, Mary Lou McDonald gave the Commissioner the opportunity to withdraw or change or explain his use of the term "disgusting". He stood over it. He did not mention personal and sensitive data, the public domain or due process. From the beginning, he spoke of his reaction "on a personal level", and said the fact that these two out of 13,000 gardai dared to blow the whistle was disgusting. This was an unmistakable attack on the character of McCabe and Wilson.

It may be the Commissioner wishes he'd said the stuff about personal and sensitive data, it may be that he thinks he did. But he didn't. And to accept this nonsense is to allow the totally unjustified insult to the two gardai to stand. Why does this matter?

First – the malpractices reported by the Garda Inspectorate range from the farcical to the sinister. This was not the work of careless cops just a few months clear of Templemore.

These were senior officers, repeatedly engaged in unprofessional conduct, sometimes incompetent, sometimes playing favourites in enforcing the law.

Second – this row has been going on for a long time. From the beginning, the authorities have belittled Sergeant McCabe and Garda Wilson. All along, these powerful men sought to brush aside two men whose only power was in the fact that they were right and the powerful men were wrong.

Other things have happened – for instance, the provision by the Commissioner, to Alan Shatter, of a nugget of personal data on a political opponent Mick Wallace. The Commissioner allegedly condemns such practices. The minister brought the nugget of data to RTE, and inflated an issue of little consequence into a televised smear of his opponent.

The arrest and public handcuffing of Clare Daly TD on an unfounded suspicion of drink driving, shortly after she raised the penalty point issue. The abuse of personal and sensitive garda data relating to this arrest, ensuring it inappropriately appeared in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures – causing damage to an elected representative.

It's been 14 months since this happened – still no explanation.

The two whistleblowers deserve our respect and thanks. They've done a public service and they've suffered for that. Any politician who is not a craven creature should do everything possible to make up to them for the damage done. But this is no longer just about them. We have been shown, in the clearest possible terms, that the police force is under the control of people for whom allegations, and even revelations, of malpractice are an occasion for defensive responses. Throughout, the response of the Commissioner and the minister has been to sneer and belittle.

They have been supported in this by the Taoiseach. And we know that the penalty points issue is just one among many – with some other issues even more serious. The Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and our amazingly tolerant Taoiseach have been incredibly relaxed about all this. And had they got their way, having fought a sneering, belittling and utterly unjustified campaign of defence, all of these practices would have been endorsed, in the eyes of the garda rank and file.

Thankfully, in Robert Olson the Garda Inspectorate has a plain-speaking man. It's clear that there will be management reforms, as a result of the clarity of the Garda Inspectorate report. That's not enough. It's equally clear that, apart from the penalty points issue, there are huge issues of unprofessional conduct and worse to be cleared up.

The record of Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan – and that of the Taoiseach – suggest they are not the people to preside over reforms. And now, the open tolerance of a blatantly untrue statement by the Garda Commissioner suggests that it's to be business as usual.

What we're seeing is what the cops in the movies used to call modus operandi. A way of working.

Remember when the allegations emerged that GSOC had been bugged?

The immediate reaction of the Taoiseach was to make a statement attacking GSOC, on the basis of a statutory requirement that didn't exist. I simply don't see how it was possible to accidentally quote, as the Taoiseach did, a non-existent clause in the legislation. But he did.

The modus operandi is just to say what you think will work, to brush away the problem. Now, to short circuit any demand that he apologise and withdraw his insult, the Garda Commissioner gets in first with his "clarification".

Short of a general election, we're stuck with Mr Kenny. And he'll almost certainly stick with his friend Alan, and Alan's friend the Commissioner.

Look at what happened with the Garda Inspectorate report. Leaked, managed, spun. Business as usual.

There have been demands for Alan Shatter to apologise to Maurice McCabe and John Wilson. This is clearly pointless. At this stage, any Shatter apology would be self-serving and insincere, delivered only in circums-tances where he needed to get off a political hook. Shatter has so discredited himself that any conceiv-able apology from him would not be worthy of the two men he has belittled. The only effective apology would be from whoever replaces Shatter and his friend the Commissioner.

Sunday Independent

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