Wednesday 24 January 2018

Garda chief in fresh crisis over '20 secret tapes'

Revelations increase pressure on Commissioner O'Sullivan

Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke
Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Tom Burke

Philip Ryan, Jim Cusack and Maeve Sheehan

UP to 20 secret recordings were submitted to the O'Higgins Commission by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, several of which contradicted allegations made against him by senior gardai, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The secretly recorded tapes of conversations between Sgt McCabe and other officers led to a "climb down" on the Garda position "on a few occasions" during O'Higgins Commission hearings, according to sources.

Allegations of further contradiction in evidence will increase pressure on the Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan to clarify why she praised Sgt McCabe in public while her legal team claimed privately to the inquiry that he was motivated by malice.

In another incident, an officer claimed in the witness box that Sgt McCabe refused to cooperate with an internal Garda investigation whereas the recording revealed otherwise, according to sources.

A source close to Sgt McCabe last night claimed senior officers "tried to bury" him during the inquiry.

Sgt McCabe, who regularly recorded conversations with colleagues, was asked to submit the tapes by Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins, who headed the inquiry.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Last night, Fianna Fail TD and former minister Willie O'Dea called on the Ms O'Sullivan to clarify claims that her legal team argued that Sgt McCabe was motivated by malice.

Mr O'Dea also said justice minister Frances Fitzgerald should be insisting on an explanation from Ms O'Sullivan.

"This is crying out for an explanation and it should be done without delay - it is very important that the public have confidence in the gardai," he told the Sunday Independent.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who also called on the Commissioner to address the claims, is expected to demand answers from the justice minister in the Dail this week.

However, the Government yesterday maintained a wall of silence.

Ms Fitzgerald refused to comment and Taoiseach Enda Kenny's spokesman said he would not address what he "deemed to be allegations".

It comes as the Sunday Independent learned the Commissioner's right to make senior promotions within the force is to be given to the new Policing Authority sooner than had been expected.

It is understood that up to 70 appointments, including several at the top ranks of assistant commissioner and chief superintendent which are currently due to be filled, will now be overseen by the authority headed by former Revenue Commissioner Josephine Feehily.

A Government spokesman confirmed yesterday that the role of making appointments will pass to the Authority "at an early date".

Although the provision for overseeing appointments is in the legislation passed last year, it is understood that the imminent transfer of the powers came as a shock to many in Garda headquarters when it was learnt only last week.

Sgt McCabe's secret recording of a meeting with two officers led the Garda legal team to ultimately withdraw their claim he was motivated by "malice" in bringing forward his complaints about the force.

The Garda view that Sgt McCabe was motivated by "malice" came to light early in the hearings, in a letter from the Garda Commissioner's senior counsel outlining the evidence that would be produced to the inquiry.

The letter said the evidence would include an account from two officers of a meeting they had with Sgt McCabe. They claimed Sgt McCabe said at the meeting he was making his complaints because of "malice" he felt towards another senior officer.

It transpired that Sgt McCabe secretly recorded the meeting and gave the tape to the inquiry.

After examining it, Mr Justice O'Higgins found that the garda's allegation that Sgt McCabe said he was motivated by malice did not tally with what was recorded on the tape.

There is no record of these events in the final report of Mr Justice O'Higgins, although they are believed to be recorded in the transcripts of the hearings.

Mr Justice O'Higgins did refer indirectly to the "wrong" questioning of Sgt McCabe's motives.

"Some people, wrongly and unfairly, cast aspersions on Sgt McCabe's motives; others were ambivalent about them," the report said. It went on to say that Sgt McCabe acted out of legitimate concerns, that he had shown courage, and performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost.

It also said he was a dedicated and committed garda who was "never less than truthful" in his evidence. He was a man of integrity and raised legitimate concerns about the force.

A spokesman said that under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, the Garda Commissioner cannot by law comment on any evidence or submission given to a judicial inquiry.

However, senior sources said after Sgt McCabe's recording came to the light, the judge asked for clarification from the Garda's legal team. It was "clarified" for the judge that the force was not questioning Sgt McCabe's integrity.

The source added that the O'Higgins report made no finding that gardai had presented false or misleading evidence to the tribunal. They said that Mr Justice O'Higgins had not recommended any disciplinary action against any member of the force.

Sgt McCabe routinely recorded his conversations with other gardai and officials as he came under pressure in his campaign to highlight poor standards and malpractice in the force.

A recording of his conversation with Oliver Connolly, the confidential recipient, was leaked to the media.

According to a leaked transcript of the alleged conversation, Mr Connolly told Sgt McCabe: "If [Minister Alan] Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished."

In a statement last week, Mr Connolly said the taping was a "breach of confidence of a confidential discussion in my former role as confidential recipient".

The O'Higgins report was published last week. It found "many instances where the gardaí failed in the performance of their duties" caused by "poor performance" and by "poor supervision". The report found Sgt McCabe's "hurtful" complaints of corruption against the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to be without "a scintilla of evidence". His complaints made against a number of senior officers were also "unfounded" and gardai were "exonerated of wrongdoing".

The O'Higgins inquiry said Sergeant McCabe was "prone to exaggeration", and while some of his complaints were upheld, others were proven to be "overstated", "exaggerated", "unfounded" and ultimately "withdrawn".

Sunday Independent

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