Wednesday 23 January 2019

Fingers in their ears and deceit on their lips

The politicians never gave a damn about Sgt McCabe, and they're still playing party games

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The first thing most "sensible people" agree on this weekend is that it would be damaging to have a general election just now. The second thing is that this email to Frances Fitzgerald is a trivial matter, and hard to understand.

This column broadly agrees about the election. But not about the email. The email to the then minister for justice is central to the McCabe scandal.

And to the moral turpitude that afflicts the Garda force. And to the reluctance of the political establishment to challenge that.

And it's not complicated.

Let's try to shut out the clamour about poor Frances Fitzgerald, the irritating prospect of a general election a week before Christmas, the hurt feelings of Fianna Fail backbenchers - all the irrelevant nonsense.

Let's zero in on that email: where it came from and why.

On the matter of a general election - forget the snow and the Jingle Bells, it's just lousy timing.

In the impending Brexit first-phase showdown, the Irish State faces a challenge from English Tory nationalists who not only won't do the Irish any favours but who would enjoy giving us a good kicking, just for old times' sake.

So, yes, lousy timing for an election.

Now, to the heart of this crappy little scandal.

There are some who see Sgt Maurice McCabe as a white knight compelled to right wrongs and cleanse the Garda force of iniquity. Perhaps they're right, but to me he just looks like a guy who did his job conscientiously and came up against cynical forces who considered him a nuisance.

And who casually and mercilessly sought to destroy him.

I'm sure there are lots and lots of gardai who've had the same experience - and who saw impossible odds, shrugged and went along with the game. McCabe didn't go along.

There's serious stuff at the heart of McCabe's complaints. It ranges from widespread abuse of the penalty points systems to assault and murder.

In the latter case, a man seriously assaulted a woman, was caught and bailed. He then broke into a house and tried to abduct a five-year old child, was caught and bailed. He then murdered a 33-year old woman and he was finally put away. The force failed these victims.

This is core corruption - not in the sense of taking bribes, but in the sense of perversion of the very purpose of the force.

This is the kind of thing Fine Gael is supposed to care passionately about. But, instead of backing McCabe wholeheartedly, their government left him twisting in the wind.

The Law and Order Party, my a**e.

McCabe went through official channels, to no avail. He wrote to Enda Kenny three times in 2012, and Kenny passed the buck to Alan Shatter, the then minister for justice. A senior garda had a look into the matter - and never interviewed McCabe.

Nothing to see here.

And the establishment accepted this.

But McCabe wouldn't move on. He believes in law and order.

Because Fianna Fail was slaughtered in the 2011 election, some left-wingers won seats. Several of them - most prominently Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Joan Collins - persistently supported McCabe's efforts. Without them, he would have been totally isolated.

Their efforts led to the Guerin Report, which led to the O'Higgins Commission.

At the commission, there seems to have been a serious attempt to shut down Sgt McCabe once and for all. In May 2015, counsel for Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan told Judge O'Higgins he'd been instructed to challenge McCabe's motivation and integrity- "right the way through", as the lawyer said.

There would be two witnesses, both gardai, who would give evidence that at a meeting with McCabe he had admitted his complaints were based on malice. The two gardai had made statements to this effect, and would be giving sworn evidence.

This was potentially devastating. At best it would be McCabe's evidence against theirs. At worst it would be two members of the force revealing the unsavoury motivation of a malcontent.

Judge O'Higgins summed up the case the commissioner was making against McCabe: "He made these allegations not in good faith but because he was motivated by malice or some such motive and that impinges on his credibility. If those are your instructions from the commissioner, so be it."

On May 15, the official from the Department of Justice sent an email to Frances Fitzgerald, via her private secretary, to alert her to the fact that an issue was being raised before O'Higgins that was "potentially relevant to [McCabe's] motivation".

This was the political establishment being alerted by email to the attempt to shut McCabe down.

Fitzgerald saw the email, but says she can't remember it. No big deal.

But it was a very big deal.

Publicly, Sgt McCabe was - thanks to the row raised by Daly and Wallace - ostensibly the establishment's darling: brave man raising serious issues, dissent is not disloyalty, come here, Sarge, so we can give you a hug.

Now, behind closed doors in the commission, his credibility and motivation (and at one point his integrity) were being questioned.

This is the central matter of the whistleblower scandal: is it just cribbing and moaning from "disgusting" people, in this case motivated by malice? Or has the force become so rotten that those overseeing it can't even recognise the corruption?

It all seemingly went over Fitzgerald's head.

But, didn't the email tell Fitzgerald it would be illegal for her to intervene?

No, it didn't. It said the minister had no "function relating to the evidence a party to a Commission of Investigation may adduce".

She couldn't prevent anyone instructing a lawyer to adduce or not adduce any particular evidence. There was nothing to stop her raising the fact that the State was now saying one thing in public and doing the opposite in private.

It was her job to, at the very least, demand to know: "what the hell is going on here?"

Imagine Clare Daly as minister, reading that email.

Fitzgerald's response to the email fits right in with the consistent establishment response to McCabe. Which was to more or less stick their fingers in their ears and shout: "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"

At all stages, at every level in the force, it was clear that the political establishment didn't want to know - the top cops were free to run the show - failures, Templemore financial chaos, two million imaginary breath tests and all.

That day in May 2015, while Fitzgerald was finding nothing interesting in her email inbox, Sgt McCabe was at home, frantically searching for the phone on which he had recorded the meeting with the two gardai who were now accusing him of admitting malice.

By that stage, increasingly wary, he was recording important meetings. It took him hours to find the phone. It exonerated him. The claim of malice was dropped.

Without that recording, the McCabe saga might have ended there - he might then have been destroyed by a false charge of child abuse and now be a discarded footnote in the history of the force. Thanks to McCabe, that force still has a chance of redemption.

This is what matters.

Y'know - justice, truth, that kind of stuff - not Fianna Fail opportunism or the career of one overpaid minister or another.

FF and FG, yet again, have ignored the core issue, and ignored pressing Brexit concerns - to indulge their petty party interests.

Sunday Independent

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