Sunday 19 May 2019

Whistleblower details smear campaign claim, but it's no easy ride for McCabe in hotseat

Counsel for the Garda turn spotlight on unfounded allegations made by sergeant, writes Shane Phelan

Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo:
Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo:
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Sergeant Maurice McCabe gave some powerful evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal, but his time in the witness box was far from easy for the whistleblower.

It was a trying experience in a number of respects.

During cross-examination, his memory of a pivotal event leading to the setting up of the tribunal was challenged.

He had to apologise over a statement alleging he had been shouted at by legal counsel during the O'Higgins Commission, while the spotlight was also turned on a number of unfounded and very serious allegations he made against some senior gardai.

The picture that emerged following his lengthy cross-examination last Tuesday and legal submissions two days later was of someone who didn't always get things right.

Yes, Sgt McCabe took on the powers-that-be and exposed all manner of malpractice in An Garda Siochana, but those assembled in George's Hall at Dublin Castle were reminded by counsel for An Garda Siochana that he also got some things badly wrong.

Sgt McCabe's evidence was strongest when he described conversations with former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor and Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness. These crystallised for him that he had been smeared in the most appalling way by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Sgt McCabe became emotional as he recounted details of a meeting with Taylor at the superintendent's Dublin home in September 2016.

A rapt public gallery watched as he outlined how Supt Taylor revealed he had spread a child sexual assault smear against Sgt McCabe among senior gardai, journalists and politicians on the instruction of Mr Callinan and with the knowledge of his successor Noirin O'Sullivan.

Both have denied any knowledge or involvement in a smear campaign.

Then there was Sgt McCabe's evidence in relation to what Mr McGuinness told him about a meeting the TD had in a hotel car park with Mr Callinan in January 2014. Mr Callinan was alleged to have told the then Dail Public Accounts Committee chairman that Sgt McCabe had abused his own children and his nieces and was not to be trusted. He denies this.

This was done shortly before Sgt McCabe was due to brief the PAC on widespread penalty points abuses he had uncovered, a meeting which went ahead in private despite the alleged intervention of Mr Callinan.

The sickening allegation, denied by Mr Callinan, sent a shiver around the hall and the following day a barrister for Mr McGuinness corroborated the central thrust of the alleged conversation.

However, the remainder of that day was difficult for Sgt McCabe as he was cross-examined by barristers representing Supt Taylor and An Garda Siochana.

Tara Burns SC, for Supt Taylor, pointed out a number of contradictions between Sgt McCabe's account of the September 2016 conversation and that of her client. Chief among these was Supt Taylor's contention that he never said Mr Callinan composed derogatory texts and asked him to send them on. Ms Burns put it to Sgt McCabe that he was upset and perhaps misremembered what was said. But he insisted his recollection was correct.

Shane Murphy SC, counsel for Mr Callinan, Ms O'Sullivan and other senior former and current gardai, ran through the findings of the O'Higgins Report, which examined allegations made by Sgt McCabe of malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan area.

In particular he noted complaints either withdrawn by Sgt McCabe or which Mr Justice O'Higgins ruled to be unfounded. These included a complaint against Mr Callinan of corruption in relation to the placing of a superintendent on a promotions list. In response, Sgt McCabe pointed out there were also a number of incidents that he was blamed for "in the wrong".

Questioned by his own counsel, Michael McDowell SC, Sgt McCabe clarified that corruption had a different meaning under the Garda regulations and that he had never sought to infer corruption in the criminal sense.

Also during his evidence last Tuesday, Sgt McCabe apologised over a claim he had been shouted at by counsel for the Garda Commissioner at the O'Higgins Commission. The allegation was made in a statement submitted by his legal team, but which he had signed off on.

It has been repeatedly referred to by tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton, who has said it was not corroborated by audio recordings and transcripts.

Mr Murphy read a letter from Sgt McCabe's solicitor, which stated the allegation was included in the statement due to an error on the part of a person in the solicitor's office.

On Thursday, during legal submissions, Mr Justice Charleton said he couldn't buy that it was just a mistake. The complaint was in "a long narrative about shouting and having to ask people to stop shouting", he said.

Sunday Independent

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