Thursday 12 December 2019

McGuinness should have spoken sooner - or not at all

John McGuinness, former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Tom Burke
John McGuinness, former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Many people will understandably be appalled by John McGuinness agreeing to a secret meeting in a hotel car park with then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

I agree the prospect of the meeting does not look great. Here was a parliamentarian leading a process of scrutiny into the operations of An Garda Síochána who agreed to meet the force's most senior officer.

But against that, there was a chance Mr Callinan could have had some information to impart which could have impacted on the work in hand. Politics and public life is sometimes strange - there was also a chance that what Mr Callinan had to say could not really have been done in any other way.

There was also the reality that both parties engaged in this strange meeting were over 21 and each, in their way, had long experience in the tricky business of politics and public affairs. By the time the meeting went ahead, Mr McGuinness had been in elected politics for over 20 years, he had been a TD for 16 years, and a junior minister for two years. He was no wide-eyed novice.

Mr McGuinness also had a well-developed contrarian streak and a track record of making up his own mind.

It is clear that he did not buy into what he tells us Mr Callinan had to say.

By Mr McGuinness's version of events, he rated the integrity of garda whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe. He did not accept what he said was the former commissioner's assertion that one could not trust Sgt McCabe. So, in practice, the idea of such a meeting, while it still looks questionable, is at least defensible from Mr McGuinness's viewpoint.

Equally, we await the response of former commissioner Martin Callinan to what Mr McGuinness has to say. The reaction of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan is also of interest, and we may hear more on June 13 when she is expected to appear before the Policing Authority.

But this pair's response to those events in 2014 is unlikely to help Mr McGuinness deal with recurring challenges from members of his own Fianna Fáil party and other TDs. These people want to know what legal advice, if any, Mr McGuinness got about issues arising from this meeting.

They also want to know what other similar meetings may have occurred. There are several questions arising from Mr McGuinness's decision not to tell the O'Higgins Commission of Inquiry, which examined Sgt McCabe's dossier, of the meeting and its contents.

All those questions lead on to the questions of why Mr McGuinness is speaking out now. There is a strong view among some senior politicians, that if Mr McGuinness agreed to a confidential meeting with Mr Callinan, it should have remained confidential.

In summary, we have yet to hear convincing arguments from Mr McGuinness to justify his actions. He should have spoken sooner - or not at all.

Irish Independent

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