McCabe blackmail claim was 'genuine error', tribunal told
A "genuine error" led to the O'Higgins Commission being told Sergeant Maurice McCabe attempted to "blackmail" a senior colleague, the Disclosures Tribunal has heard.
The false allegation against the whistleblower was contained in a letter submitted to the commission by counsel for former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, after her lawyers were asked to justify a legal strategy that involved challenging Sgt McCabe's credibility and motivation.
The letter, drafted in May 2015, alleged Sgt McCabe had told Superintendent Noel Cunningham at a meeting that the only reason he made a complaint against another senior officer, Supt Michael Clancy, was to force him to circulate DPP directions.
The directions related to an investigation into a claim Sgt McCabe had sexually assaulted the daughter of a colleague. The allegation was dismissed by the DPP.
It emerged later at the commission that Sgt McCabe had not made this comment to Supt Cunningham. He was able to produce a tape recording of the meeting, which took place in Mullingar in 2008, to prove this.
Supt Cunningham's own notes of the meeting concurred with the tape recording.
The letter should have said Sgt McCabe submitted complaints "to" Supt Clancy, rather than "against" him.
The Garda liaison officer to the commission, Chief Supt Fergus Healy, told the tribunal the letter had been drafted by barristers for Ms O'Sullivan following consultation with Supt Cunningham and Chief Supt Colm Rooney.
A draft of the letter was circulated to Garda officers and counsel asked that any errors be brought to their attention.
Despite this no-one pointed out the mistake, which tribunal counsel Kathleen Leader said suggested "there was an almost blackmail situation going on".
Chief Supt Healy said he did not know how the error made its way into the letter.
"The content of it was a matter for the contributors, who were required to ensure its accuracy," Chief Supt Healy said.
Barristers involved in the drafting of the letter are due to appear as witnesses next week.
Chief Supt Healy said that after Sgt McCabe produced the tape recording and Supt Cunningham produced his notes "it was accepted by all" that "a genuine error" had been made.
However, Chief Supt Healy said he had no recollection of any apology being issued to Sgt McCabe after the mistake came to light.
He told the tribunal the commissioner was concerned about claims of corruption Sgt McCabe had made, and articulated this during a "meet and greet" meeting with her senior counsel, Colm Smyth, on May 21, 2015.
The meeting, over a cup of tea, came the week after the commission had begun looking into the whistleblower's claims.
A row erupted in the second day of hearings after Mr Smyth told the tribunal he had been instructed to challenge Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility, and Ms O'Sullivan had to reconfirm her instructions.
Chief Supt Healy said the allegations of corruption were the "main focus" of the commissioner at the brief meeting.
He said they were "a very serious concern for her".
The O'Higgins Commission determined many of the concerns Sgt McCabe expressed about Garda malpractice were well founded, but complaints of corruption against senior officers were either rejected by the commission or withdrawn by Sgt McCabe.