Wednesday 24 April 2019

Dealing with McCabe case had left Shatter feeling like he 'was sinking in quicksand'

Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter pictured at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter pictured at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
John Downing

John Downing

So we met the second of a trio who were forced to unhappily and swiftly exit their good jobs in the spring and summer of 2014. And all the exits related to controversies concerning Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Superintendent Dav Taylor, obliged to leave the Garda press office, was replaced in the witness box by former justice minister, Alan Shatter.

This unhappy trio is expected to be completed today when former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan takes the stand. Alan Shatter, who had been justice minister from March 2011 until May 2014, sounded rather choked at times during his two hours of evidence. But he explained it "was a combination of hay fever and asthma".

Responding to questions about Sgt McCabe, he said his dealings with the case gave him the feeling of "sinking in quicksand". He made it clear that the circumstances of his forced resignation from cabinet still burned, and he twice mentioned the outcome of the 2014 report by barrister Seán Guerin which led to his cabinet exit. But that issue is still before the Supreme Court.

Shatter acknowledged Sgt McCabe had made a number of correct and accurate claims about penalty points. But, against that, "a number of very serious allegations regarding Garda corruption turned out to be unsubstantiated and incorrect".

"There was this feeling that when you were dealing with any issues raised, you were sinking in quicksand," the former justice minister said.

Remarkably, Mr Shatter said he had asked then-commissioner Callinan, probably on phone in June 2013, if there was a "background issue" about Sgt McCabe's attitude to An Garda Síochána. He said Mr Callinan had told him about "Ms D's" sex assault allegation in 2006 and that the commissioner speculated the sergeant was upset. But he said nothing about the sergeant being "driven by revenge".

"Mr Callinan put it in a manner I would say was sympathetically disposed to Sgt McCabe. He put it in a manner to suggest basically, look, this man is upset. There was nothing to suggest he had an agenda, nothing about him being malicious," Mr Shatter recalled of his talk with commissioner Callinan.

Equally, Mr Shatter insisted there were no rumours about alleged sexual misconduct concerning Sgt McCabe circulating at Leinster House.

He also said he respected McCabe's wishes to remain anonymous while making claims about problems with the driver penalty point system and major difficulties in the Cavan-Monaghan Garda district. "If I hadn't, my political life would have been a lot simpler," he said. He tried to deal with McCabe with "care and caution".

The former justice minister also recalled being contacted by then-Irish Independent journalist Paul Williams, asking him to meet "Ms D" after he had been obliged to quit the government. At the time he "was not in a good place" and "traumatised" by the circumstances which led him to lose his job but he went to the meeting out of respect for Mr Williams.

They had met at the Merrion Hotel for an hour and a half and he realised Ms D, who believed her allegations of sexual misconduct by Sgt McCabe had been mismanaged by gardaí, was under extreme stress and very vulnerable. Soon he realised her case would be taken up by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and he felt given his past situation any interventions would neither be well received nor successful.

Irish Independent

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