Monday 23 September 2019

Philip Ryan: 'When he spoke up, there was an arm of the State out to crush him'

Eight years of torture: Maurice McCabe and his wife Lorraine at their home in Mount Nugent, Co Cavan. Photo: Barry Cronin
Eight years of torture: Maurice McCabe and his wife Lorraine at their home in Mount Nugent, Co Cavan. Photo: Barry Cronin
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

It's been a while since Maurice McCabe put on a Garda uniform or sat behind the wheel of a patrol car. It's been a long time since he took a statement or logged an evidence bag. From today he never will do any of those things again.

Sgt McCabe's retirement did not come as a big shock to those who know him. He's been on stress-related sick leave for the best part of the past two years. And who could blame him?

The country's most widely recognised whistleblower and his family spent most of the last five years in the full glare of the public spotlight. They couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without being faced with the plight they endured since Mr McCabe decided to speak up.

That's over for now. There are several High Court cases Mr McCabe and his wife Lorraine have taken against various State bodies who they feel they were wronged by. They include An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and the HSE. The lawyers will do the heavy lifting in these cases. They can make time for themselves.

This wasn't always the case. When Mr McCabe first started compiling reports on penalty points or other Garda failings in the front room of his home in Cavan, there was no advice from solicitors. It was just him, a computer and his attention to detail.

He knew the difference between right and wrong. The difference between a good investigation and bad investigation. He made sure to follow proper procedures when he was reporting what he saw as failings in the force.

But for every time he spoke up, there was an arm of the State ready to crush him down. Superiors never gave his complaints the credence they deserved. Internal investigations uncovered little if anything but Mr McCabe stayed determined. Government departments were also reluctant to look at his allegations.

Eventually, he approached Opposition TDs who were shocked by his allegations about the widespread quashing of penalty points. The Irish Independent was the first newspaper to publish details of his penalty point claims. The 'Sunday Independent' also led the way on coverage of Mr McCabe's complaints. Others followed suit.

The Government finally listened. Reviews were sought and heads rolled.

Then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan was one of the first to go. Then justice minister Alan Shatter wasn't far behind him. The Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell was also moved on. Independent investigations into Mr McCabe's claims - whether they related to penalty points or failings in the Cavan/Monaghan Garda Division - vindicated his campaign to highlight shoddy police practices.

Sweeping changes to the penalty point system were introduced and solemn commitments were made to make An Garda Síochána a friendlier place for members who speak up. Mr McCabe felt some of these promises were not followed through on.

He went on stress-related sick leave around May 2016 after the publication of the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation report into his claims of misconduct in the Cavan/Monaghan Garda Division. He endured a tough line of questioning from Garda barristers during Justice Kevin O'Higgins' inquiry.

The stream of resignations didn't stop. Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan stepped down after months of intense political pressure over involvement in the controversy.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald would eventually fall on her sword, to save the country from a general election when Fianna Fáil called for her to resign.

She was subsequently vindicated by the Disclosures Tribunal report, which stated that she "selflessly decided to resign in the national interest".

Almost every detail of Mr McCabe's personal and work life has been made available for public consumption. Workplace grievances with Garda colleagues have been pored over in great detail by barristers looking for holes in Mr McCabe's story.

Then the darkest hour came on February 17, 2017. Mr McCabe and his wife were forced to issue a statement demanding a full public inquiry after it emerged the wholly false allegations of child sex abuse were swirling around police and political circles.

Somehow, by accident we are told, a Tusla file was compiled which suggested Mr McCabe sexually abused a child and was potentially a danger to his own children. It later transpired commissioner Callinan and former Garda press officer Superintendent David Taylor maliciously spread these entirely false allegations to damage McCabe.

In their statement, the McCabe family said they endured "eight years of great suffering, private nightmare, public defamation, and State vilification" because Mr McCabe wanted gardaí to adhere to "decent and appropriate standards of policing".

The family got their public inquiry and yet again an eminent member of the judiciary, Justice Peter Charleton, praised Mr McCabe for his service to policing in this country. The praise was echoed by the current Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

It drew a line in the sand for the McCabe family. Finally the journey was over. No more denials from those in power.

No more trips to Dublin to sit for hours on end in a solicitor's office. No more days spent watching barristers argue over the finer points of his claims.

Maurice McCabe said he decided to retire because he believed it was "in the best interest of his family". And who could blame him?

Irish Independent

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