Thursday 24 January 2019

Those sleeping dogs, they just might bite

The 2011 election created a political force that saved the garda whistleblowers from being ignored by TDs, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Here's a quote from the current political debate about the Garda whistleblower scandal. It's from Martin Heydon, no less - the chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

Martin, a poll-topper who's apparently tipped to go places, represented his party on Morning Ireland last week.

The subject was the political spin-off from the attempted character assassination of Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

"Fine Gael," Heydon said, "is leading this charge for justice and the truth."

Fianna Fail was heard bemoaning the fact that McCabe has been "failed by the State".

Meanwhile, you could hardly turn around without tripping over Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin telling one and all about how "Maurice" expressed his "gratitude" to Howlin for speaking out.

Now, Sgt McCabe did his duty and suffered for it. His duty involved protecting law and order from dysfunctional elements within the Garda. He did that duty with admirable consistency and courage. Gratitude may be due to him, he owes gratitude to no one.

The actions of the political parties last week trivialised a very serious matter. First, they sought to claim kudos for their supposed support of the whistleblowers. Then, they speedily slid away from the substantive issue and indulged in political point-scoring; finally, they moved on, using the whistleblower scandal as the launch pad for the contest to see who gets to be the new leader of Fine Gael.

And, now, it's All About Enda.

The whistleblower phenomenon is a response by decent cops to a sinister development within the Garda - a bullying, oppressive and incompetent cronyism that ruthlessly puts its own welfare in place of the duty the force owes to serve the public.

It involves not just abuse of the penalty points system but a murder, a serious assault and the attempted abduction of a child - along with a string of questionable responses to people in need of protection.

The cover-up of this bullying includes persistent abuse of the whistleblowers and what might have been an abortive attempt to give false evidence against Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission. We have to wonder, if they tolerate this being done to a garda sergeant, what would they tolerate being done in private to a witness or a suspect?

McCabe's unease with developments within the force dates from 2006. When the internal processes didn't work, he sought support from our elected representatives.

FG claims to be the law and order party. It shows little respect for the law, or the welfare of the people employed to enforce it. The notion that it has had any role in - much less led - the "charge for justice and the truth" is a terribly unfunny joke.

FG did nothing to support the whistleblowers. Not one thing. The party stood by the garda hierarchy, and when Commissioner Martin Callinan said the whistleblowers were "disgusting", FG continued to stand by him.

Leo Varadkar, to his credit, distanced himself from the "disgusting" insult (that was in 2014 - the late date at which Fianna Fail also bestirred itself on the matter).

Enda Kenny panicked over a revelation about garda station recordings and manoeuvred Callinan into resigning - although it was an issue on which Callinan was blameless.

FF's intervention embarrassed FG by making an issue of the whistleblowers. In this, as in every single other issue, FF responds only in so far as its actions support its current great project, the return of the party to ministerial office.

It will support and oppose or turn a blind eye according to its reading of what will best advance that objective.

What mattered to FG was killing the controversy. It made no attempt to support McCabe, even for cosmetic purposes. It was content to let the bullying, oppressive cronyism continue, with all the potential consequences for the public.

When it replaced Commissioner Callinan it could have committed to a fresh start - instead, it appointed the next in line from the hierarchy, his deputy.

FG's Labour partner was equally unconcerned, as year followed year.

After the 2011 election, there was a range of new TDs. Some were left wing, others were members of the awkward squad. This meant that the traditional parties - who had resolutely avoided the whistleblower issue, and anything else that didn't suit their conservative agenda - had competition.

Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Ming Flanagan sought to raise the whistleblower issue but were stymied. On December 4, 2012, they raised it during questions about the Household Charge - which was procedurally inadmissible.

"Honest gardai are being undermined," Wallace said, "those gardai need protection", and as he was silenced each of the others spoke in turn along the same lines - ensuring the matter was put on the Dail record.

A month later, Daly was arrested and held in handcuffs by the side of the road. She was taken in on suspicion of drink-driving, had a sample taken and details entered on the Pulse system.

Within hours, dozens of gardai checked the Pulse details; an email about the arrest was sent up through the garda hierarchy - it was forwarded to 57 people, with a total of 145 garda-related people being informed.

Gardai leaked the details to the media and Daly was widely smeared; the usual FG/FF/Labour fanboys gloated on social media.

By the time the results of the sample cleared Daly of drink-driving, the damage was done.

Meanwhile, the whistleblowers continued to be bullied. John Wilson had a rat tied to his front door.

Through 2015 and 2016, Wallace and Daly hammered away relentlessly in the Dail, ensuring the whistleblower issue didn't die.

Mick Clifford at the Irish Examiner and Katie Hannon at RTE investigated and analysed the scandal, their unimpeachable reporting gradually unfolding astonishing facts and allegations.

The political parties, which now claim to have led the charge for justice and truth, still waited for the issue to die.

Had the problem been taken up in the Dail, as it could and should have been, with ministers making decisions and reporting back to deputies - all in the open - a sinister development could have been knocked on the head by the democratic process.

Instead, it has blown up in the parties' faces.

It led to the discrediting of the Taoiseach, as he sought to talk his way around the issue, and - inevitably, given his history - describing a meeting that didn't happen, complete with dialogue.

It has damaged the reputations of more than one minister.

It almost split FG/FF.

It has led to a tribunal.

It has led to questions being raised about that attempt to falsely claim, at the O'Higgins Commission, that Sgt McCabe admitted being motivated by malice.

It has led to the damaging involvement of Tusla, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explored.

And the political parties have been caught jockeying to claim credit for a public service they not only didn't perform but which they wilfully neglected.

The thousands of voters in Wexford and Dublin North, who elected Wallace and Daly, and elsewhere who elected Joan Collins and others, can be satisfied that they've created an intelligent, committed force outside the moribund party structure.

And those TDs have in turn done some service to the public way beyond their constituencies.

Sunday Independent

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