Sunday 23 October 2016

How minister ignored a wife's cry for help

Published 10/05/2014 | 02:30

Alan Shatter
Alan Shatter

It was a cry for help from a woman in distress and at the end of her tether. She made it directly to the Justice Minister – and it met with a chilly response. Formal, legalistic and ultimately evasive. She was directed elsewhere.

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When Lorraine McCabe emailed Alan Shatter and alleged a death threat had been made against her husband, garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, she must have hoped the minister would take a direct interest in the case.

Whatever else may have been due to the couple, they were entitled to a quick response. How often is a Justice Minister told that a serving garda sergeant fears a colleague will do him physical harm? On a human level, an appeal from that sergeant's wife is difficult to ignore.

Or so most of us might imagine. As it turned out, Mrs McCabe had to send a reminder to the Department of Justice before she heard back.

Clearly, she was frantic with worry about her husband, making no headway in his attempt to expose his concerns that malpractice and corruption existed in An Garda Siochana – an honourable man who was becoming increasingly isolated as he told of colleagues ostracising him.

It seems that Mrs McCabe was unable to remain on the sidelines any longer. She decided to try a direct plea to someone she thought was in a position to help.

A month after Mr Shatter's ministerial appointment, she sent an email to him. In the communication, she referred to "the hurt, stress, annoyance, severe damage and sheer hell on our family and our family life".

That description, written on April 6, 2011, allows a glimpse into what it must have been like for Sergeant McCabe's family – the relentless misery undergone by them. And all because he was trying to take action in the national interest.

Mrs McCabe told Mr Shatter that wrongdoing in the gardai had been covered up – an allegation which ought to have snagged his personal attention.

She said a death threat from a certain member of the force had been received but "she would not let her husband report it because she was afraid of the repercussions". And she asked for the minister's help.

So, what assistance did he give? Nothing, initially. She waited a week, before emailing a reminder to the department. It prompted a letter to be sent out: on April 14, Mr Shatter's private secretary replied to Mrs McCabe's email.

So, it took eight days for a reply to go out on behalf of the Justice Minister. That bears repeating. A serving garda sergeant's wife begs the minister for help. She outlines the suffering experienced by his family as a result of her husband's whistleblowing. In response, she receives a brisk letter from a department official.

It drew her attention to the Garda Ombudsman's office, referred to the time limit for making complaints and raised the possibility of extending that time limit. It told her how a complaint could be made and gave GSOC's contact details. Nothing to do with the minister, was the subtext. Take it up with the Ombudsman.

Referring to the extreme seriousness of the death threat, the letter said the claim was being brought to the Garda Commissioner's attention. A handwritten note in the Department of Justice's files states a copy of her email was emailed to the Commissioner the following day, April 15.

Mrs McCabe remained hopeful that something more concrete might be forthcoming from the minister. Again, she contacted the Department of Justice on April 25, and yet again on May 5.

By the latter date, her disenchantment reverberates through the email: "I had asked the minister and your office for some help and received none at all. I did expect someone from your office to make contact with me and this has not happened. You acknowledge that the allegation is extremely serious?"

The following day, Mr Shatter's private secretary wrote back to tell her the email had been received, saying it would be brought to his attention.

Clearly, the allegation was, indeed, brought to the Garda Commissioner's notice. Elsewhere in the Guerin report, a letter dated January 27, 2012 from Martin Callinan to the Department of Justice mentions the death threat.

The then-Commissioner said that Sgt McCabe made a statement about the allegation on May 26, 2011 – in other words, shortly after Mrs McCabe contacted Mr Shatter. The letter from Mr Callinan said a "full investigation was undertaken" and a file forwarded to the DPP. In January 2012, the DPP's office decided no prosecutions were warranted.

With a new minister in place, and a new administration in government, Mrs McCabe appears to have hoped that her husband's dossier of complaints would be given the attention it deserved. No great leap of imagination is needed to presume that she may have hoped it would happen for his sake, as well as for the country's: he was enduring a wretched time.

Her optimism proved to be misplaced. But let's remember that conversation between Sgt McCabe and Oliver Connolly, the confidential recipient.

During it, the sergeant said: "I want my day to tell exactly what happened. To every member of the public, that's where I'm going. They are not going to shut me up."

Nor was Mrs McCabe shut up – her words, too, are in the public domain now.

Irish Independent

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