News Shane Coleman

Saturday 30 August 2014

Move to appoint barrister takes heat off Shatter and Coalition – for time being

Shane Coleman

Published 26/02/2014 | 02:30

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Four of the ten barristers who became Senior Councel at a cermonie this morning by the Chief Justice in the Supreme court (from left) Sara Phelan, Patrick Leonard, Sean Guerin and Conor Halpin.
Pic:Mark Condren
10.10.2013
Four of the ten barristers who became Senior Councel at a cermonie this morning by the Chief Justice in the Supreme court (from left) Sara Phelan, Patrick Leonard, Sean Guerin and Conor Halpin. Pic:Mark Condren 10.10.2013

AFTER two-and-a-half weeks embroiled in seemingly endless controversy, the Coalition may finally have found itself some respite.

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The decision to appoint senior counsel Sean Guerin to examine and assess the allegations raised by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe falls short of the Commission of Inquiry which was demanded by the Opposition.

But the assurance that Guerin will have the power to recommend such a commission at the end of his seven-week review took the heat out of Dail exchanges yesterday.

There will inevitably be scepticism in some quarters at the Government's course of action. If the allegations from McCabe were as serious and grave as the Taoiseach said they were last week, why the need for the review? Why not go straight to a Commission of Inquiry?

Kenny's assertion that 11 of the 12 cases raised by McCabe had been investigated and found to be "groundless" was a total contradiction of those very strong comments from him last week.

Nor did it engender confidence in those inclined to question the Government's motives. The very people drawing up the senior counsel's terms of reference are, the same day, stressing that these matters have already been "thoroughly investigated" and nothing was found. Not a great start.

However, for those who believe a Commission of Inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of this controversy, there are grounds for optimism that yesterday was an important staging post towards achieving that.

Guerin crucially will be able to do more than merely examine the files and the paperwork in the Department of Justice. He will be able to talk to McCabe and some of the victims in the cases raised by McCabe.

Given what we know of those already in the public domain, it's difficult to see how anything other than a Commission of Inquiry can be recommended.

The allegation that murdered mother of two Sylvia Roche-Kelly's killer Jerry McGrath was only at large because gardai hadn't properly handled a previous brutal attack by McGrath on Cavan woman Mary Lynch, and an attempted abduction of a child in the months before killing Ms Roche-Kelly, is not easily explained away.

Nor are the very serious claims that senior gardai tried to scapegoat McCabe for the mishandling of the Lynch assault case. This doesn't seem to have been the only attempt to wrongly point the finger at McCabe.

In another case he raised, there was an attempt to blame the whistleblower for the disappearance – from a garda station – of a computer seized as evidence from a priest later convicted of child abuse charges, even though McCabe had nothing to do with the investigation.

For that and other reasons, it is vitally important that Guerin's review doesn't merely examine the cases raised by McCabe, but also assesses how the whistleblower was personally treated after making his complaints and how those complaints were handled. That is absolutely central to this whole controversy.

The establishment of the Guerin review will take the pressure off Justice Minister Alan Shatter after an extraordinary couple of weeks. But any respite may yet prove temporary. Guerin's brief is to report back before Easter.

And if that report, from an esteemed senior counsel, recommends a Commission of Inquiry, it will re-raise huge questions about Shatter's handling of the whole affair – more so, ironically, than if the Cabinet had opted yesterday to establish such a commission straight away.

The pressure will be back on immediately. And the central point remains: if an inquiry ultimately upholds McCabe's allegations and finds that the powers that be failed to act on them, then the Justice Minister's position will hardly be tenable. This is far from over.

SHANE COLEMAN IS THE PRESENTER OF THE 'SUNDAY SHOW' ON NEWSTALK 106-108FM.

Irish Independent

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