| 15.5°C Dublin

'They are not going to shut me up': pledge of the Garda whistleblower

Close

FOR THE RECORD: Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe arriving for the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

FOR THE RECORD: Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe arriving for the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Former Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke

Former Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke

Derek Byrne. Photo: Derek Byrne

Derek Byrne. Photo: Derek Byrne

WHISTLEBLOWER: John Wilson, who has since quit the force

WHISTLEBLOWER: John Wilson, who has since quit the force

/

FOR THE RECORD: Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe arriving for the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

IF the Garda whistleblower system worked, we would never have heard of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his complaints about his colleagues' work practices.

If he hadn't felt so persecuted and isolated in the process of pursuing better standards in the force, he might not have pursued his campaign with such fervour.

And his dossier of wrongs would never have grabbed the attention of An Taoiseach and the Attorney-General, as it did last week, if the Garda watchdog hadn't suspected that members of the force may have been bugging their offices.

Of course, no definitive evidence was found – just unexplained anomalies. But following Justice Minister Alan Shatter's high-handed roasting of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for harbouring such suspicions, and his alleged lack of candour in the Dail, the Opposition scented blood, and an eager willing political audience has opened up for Sgt McCabe and a fresh wave of suspicion has washed over An Garda Siochana.

Sgt McCabe is the whistleblower whose complaints concerning rampant abuse of the penalty points system by gardai wiping points for VIPs, relatives and friends last year resulted in disciplinary action against some gardai and an overhaul of the entire system. But he has been highlighting what he claims are malpractices and incompetencies of his colleagues for almost seven years, raising them through the internal Garda whistleblower system, with politicians and through select media briefings.

Those who have met the sergeant – such as Micheal Martin, the Fianna Fail leader, and some TDs and senators at the Public Accounts Committee – described him as a man of integrity and honour. They have commented on the attempts by those in authority to blacken Sgt McCabe's name.

Visitors to his house say he is welcoming and warm. He is said to be cautious – unsurprisingly – and deliberate in his pursuit of his goal to have his claims of incompetence and malpractice and corruption in the force fully investigated. He still works in Mullingar, but he has no direct access to the Pulse system – that was stopped by garda management after the penalty points controversy took off – which greatly limits his work at the station.

He is from Mountnugent in Cavan and worked as a garda in Clones in Monaghan. His concerns started after he transferred to Bailieboro, where he became the station sergeant.

At that time there were possibly up to 30 gardai based at the station.

As sergeant in charge, he effectively ran the station and had a good view of what was going on.

According to his account, he became alarmed about the standards of policing while he was there.

Allegations of wrongdoing in the force were taken seriously at that time.

An Garda Siochana was still reeling from the corruption findings made by the Morris Tribunal.

The GSOC had also been established to bring transparency and independence to the process of investigating complaints against gardai from members of the public – but not complaints from gardai.

Instead, the then Justice Minister Brian Lenihan announced a "confidential recipient" to whom gardai could go in confidence to report corruption or wrongdoing or malpractice within the force.

In March 2008, Brian McCarthy, a former secretary general for President Mary McAleese, was appointed the Garda's first confidential recipient.

Three months later, Sgt McCabe transferred out of Bailieboro to Mullingar – and not long after that he became one of the country's first garda whistleblowers.

Sgt McCabe by then had a list of cases at his old station that he believed were not investigated properly. Although the details were never made public, they included cases of false imprisonment, and physical and sexual assaults.

He contacted two opposition TDS – Pat Rabbitte, now a Labour government minister; and Charles Flanagan, a solicitor and chairperson of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

Mr Flanagan would not comment this weekend, but Mr Rabbitte said: "Yes, I met Maurice McCabe around that time. He sought advice on a confidential basis about misconduct of gardai at a station in Cavan. I advised him at the time and eventually I established that the then confidential recipient had an office in the Department of Justice and that Sgt McCabe should contact him."

In late 2008, Mr McCarthy reported Sgt McCabe's concerns to Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, who promptly ordered an internal inquiry headed by Derek Byrne, an assistant commissioner.

Shortly before he completed his inquiry in 2010, Derek Byrne, the assistant commissioner, arranged to meet Maurice McCabe to discuss the cases with him.

They arranged to meet at the Hillgrove Hotel in Co Monaghan. Mr McCabe turned up with a box of records that he apparently admitted to downloading from the Pulse system, the internal police computer system.

Mr Byrne demanded that Sgt McCabe relinquish the garda documents. He refused, saying he would only give it to an independent body. But when he tried to leave the room with his boxes of files, Mr Byrne rushed to the doorway to block his path.

Mr Byrne got the files in the end. But the bizarre stand-off sparked two more internal garda inquiries. Sgt McCabe made a complaint of assault and false imprisonment against Mr Byrne.

Mr McCabe faced an internal investigation for printing off Pulse documents. Neither of them had a case to answer.

In the end, Sgt McCabe's original complaint was vindicated when Mr Byrne's report concluded that some of the garda that Sgt McCabe complained of had a case to answer.

"There were some instances in which members were subject to disciplinary regulation and other instances in which they were not," said a source.

Sgt McCabe's identity was supposed to have been secret at this time, protected under the garda whistleblower legislation. But by the time the internal garda investigation into his concerns had concluded, he had been named in at least one newspaper.

The following year he started a legal action against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, and the Attorney-General. The case was first listed in the High Court on December 21, 2011, got a brief "mention" in 2012 and again in last year, when Sgt McCabe's lawyers notified the court of his intention to proceed, although nothing much seems to have happened since.

He was also assembling a dossier of what he believed was garda malpractice in serious criminal investigations.

They included the shocking case of Sylvia Roche Kelly, who was murdered in Limerick by a man out on bail for two other very serious crimes. Months before, Jerry McGrath viciously assaulted taxi-driver Mary Lynch, and while on bail he broke into a house in Tipperary and attempted to abduct a child. Granted bail for a second time, he murdered Ms Roche Kelly, in her hotel bedroom. Both earlier cases were investigated by the GSOC. The Commissioner Martin Callinan disagreed with GSOC's findings and didn't implement the recommendations. Mr McCabe claimed to GSOC he had been wrongly implicated in the taxi-driver case by a colleague

Sgt McCabe gave his dossier to Justice Minister Alan Shatter in 2012 via the new confidential recipient Oliver Connolly, appointed by Mr Shatter to replace Mr McCarthy. Shatter and Connolly knew each other previously. Mr Connolly is a barrister who runs a dispute mediation firm, Friary Law, and also has business interests abroad.

He once contributed €1,000 to Mr Shatter's election campaign in 2007.

On February 9, 2012, Sgt McCabe met Mr Connolly in a Dublin hotel. Sgt McCabe taped the conversation – presumably without Mr Connolly's knowledge – and a transcript was posted on the internet for the first time last week.

In it, Mr Connolly indicated to Sgt McCabe that Mr Shatter would not be taking his complaints further.

Mr Connolly might not have been as indiscrete about his ministerial pal had he known he was being taped.

On the tape Mr Connolly tells Sgt McCabe: "You were just standing up for what was right," he said. His report would be a "disaster" for the gardai.

He cautioned him to be careful, and warned: "If Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished."

He advised him to get his case into the courts, to go to mediation: "and if you go in there looking for the numbers, whatever you want you'll get it."

Mr McCabe later 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. . ."

The transcript has not been verified but the contents were not "repudiated" by Mr Connolly, leading Shatter to sack him last week.

Mr McCabe's dossier on criminal investigations was set aside by Mr Shatter, even though it has been described as "grave" by the Taoiseach.

Mr McCabe did not let it rest and wrote to Mr Shatter later in 2012

The secretary general of the Department of Justice replied that of the 12 individual allegations made in the report to the Confidential Recipient, "11 had already been thoroughly investigated. . .and that no evidence of corruption or malpractice had been discovered".

Mr McCabe's second dossier on the abuse of the penalty points system took off.

In 2012, Mr McCabe took his file to the Comptroller and Auditor General – who later produced a damning report based on his information – and also gave it to Mr Shatter.

A second garda whistleblower John Wilson had at this point emerged. Mr Wilson later retired from the force, saying his position became "untenable".

By the end of the year, political pressure forced the Garda Commissioner to launch an investigation, which found disciplinary breaches but no widespread corruption in the fixed-charge processing system.

Several gardai were disciplined and a new garda directive was issued through the entire force to tighten up procedures for cancelling penalty points.

During this time, there can be little doubt that attempts were made to undermine Mr McCabe.

He was accused by Mr Shatter of failing to co-operate with the Garda's penalty points investigation and he wasn't interviewed by the officer who conducted it, which he felt he should have been.

It was then that his access to the Pulse system, on which all crimes are recorded, was stopped.

The findings of the penalty points inquiries – both by the C&AG and the gardai – meant he emerged with his credibility intact.

Mr McCabe did not let his campaign rest.

He appeared privately before the Public Accounts Committee in January – despite the threat of legal action from the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to prevent it.

And in recent weeks, his taped transcript of his conversation with Oliver Connolly has been circulating in political circles. Mick Wallace read a section of it into the Dail several weeks ago under privilege.

It caused few political ripples. But timing is key in politics.

When the Sunday Times published a leaked report on GSOC's suspicions that its offices were under surveillance a fortnight ago, the controversy delivered an unforeseen jolt to the State security agency.

Micheal Martin read more of the transcript into the Dail record, and deftly hit the target.

Mr Shatter sacked Mr Connolly last week. A judge will review the circumstances surrounding the suspected bugging of GSOC's office.

The Minister for Justice is also reviewing all of his correspondence with Sgt McCabe over the past two years.

A pattern has emerged in how the minister has treated allegations that he didn't want to hear.

In his customary dismissive manner, he warned the garda whistleblowers against being dishonest in their concerns, telling them that their complaints had to be "real and genuine".

When the GSOC scandal broke, he dismissed the commissioners as having based their investigation into surveillance on their offices on "baseless innuendo" when in fact it was on foot of a professional security assessment that revealed unexplained anomalies, one of which had a close to zero chance of being benign.

This weekend, Sgt McCabe's dossier of improper investigations of 10 serious crimes between 2007 and 2009 – and the families who are suffering the effects of those crimes – is finally getting the attention it deserves from the Taoiseach and the Attorney-General. As he vowed to Oliver Connolly two years ago, he will not be shut up.

Sunday Independent