Eddie Molloy: 'McCabe's ordeal will have been in vain unless the Government acts'
Glowing tributes have been paid to Maurice McCabe following his vindication by Mr Justice Peter Charleton. We've heard much praise for his courage in speaking out about Garda wrongdoing and the dignity shown by him and his wife during their 12-year ordeal, so chillingly recounted in Katie Hannon's recent documentary on RTÉ.
To mitigate the suffering and to comfort him, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and others commended Mr McCabe for the "great service" he had performed for the Garda and for the people of Ireland.
While this sentiment is well intended, regrettably it is far too early to say whether any good will come of the McCabes' sacrifice or whether their harrowing experience will all have been in vain.
If history is anything to go by, the odds are against this scandalous story becoming a defining moment in the transformation of the Garda and the wider justice system.
A decade after Mr Justice Frederick Morris reported on the horrendous treatment of the McBreartys and Frank Shortt in Donegal, Justice Charleton concluded that former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan was smearing a conscientious garda with allegations of child sexual abuse, a crime that arguably elicits greater opprobrium than murder. Little had changed in 10 years.
After these devastating findings, what then are the chances that 'this time it will be different'?
Political equivocation has been the root cause of the endless cycle of scandal, followed by public outrage, a costly inquiry, a shocking report, hand-wringing expressions of regret, and then foot-dragging and weak-kneed solutions which do nothing to change Garda behaviour.
If the current Government is going to be the one that finally breaks this malignant cycle, then how it decides on some issues facing it right now will help to determine whether we will be able to look back on the 'McCabe affair' as a turning point in the history of An Garda Síochána.
Firstly, new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris must be given the full freedom and resources to build an extended senior management team with the necessary policing and technocratic skills and genuine commitment to the Garda Code of Ethics. Those who cling to a different code of ethics simply have to go.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recently published a majority recommendation on Garda governance structures, an opinion disputed by two commission members, Dr Vicky Conway of DCU and myself.
It advocates an "internal" board, modelled on the boards of "State bodies", such as Bord Bia or Enterprise Ireland, that would report to the Department of Justice.
It also recommends emasculation of the Policing Authority which, operating externally and independently, had begun to extract the truth from An Garda Síochána about widespread malpractice, such as country-wide cancellation of penalty points and bogus breathalyser numbers.
We consider the majority view to be a backward step in ensuring effective oversight, transparency and accountability.
Whatever decision the Government comes to in regard to this vital matter of governance will have a greater bearing on the future of An Garda Síochána than any other decision it will ever make.
A second defining item on Mr Flanagan's desk concerns the infamous case of the death in a hit-and-run accident of 23-year-old Shane O'Farrell in 2011. Between August 28, 2009, and August 2, 2011, when the fatal accident occurred, the driver, Zigimantas Gridziuska, had committed more than 20 offences while on bail yet no attempt was made to enforce these bail breaches or activate his suspended sentence.
Further, no Garda inquiries were made when he left the jurisdiction and failed to sign on as ordered at a special court sitting on August 4, 2011.
Shane's mother, Lucia O'Farrell, has built up a comprehensive dossier that alleges Garda malpractice.
She has been campaigning tirelessly for a proper inquiry into the case and, such has been the compelling quality of her 'book of evidence', she has persuaded two-thirds of TDs in Dáil Éireann to vote in favour of an independent inquiry.
The Justice Minister and his Fine Gael colleagues have refused an effective inquiry on questionable grounds.
Recently, both the minister and Garda Commissioner responded with commendable alacrity to revelations that gardaí had failed to enforce bail conditions on a man who then went on to rape a Spanish student. An assistant commissioner has been assigned to investigate.
But the O'Farrell case is much more serious, with potential ramifications for the wider justice system.
The ordeal of the McCabe family will have been in vain unless the Government adequately resources and empowers the Garda Commissioner, and strengthens his hand with effective structures of external accountability.
Until there is demonstrable change in An Garda Síochána, then decent gardaí will heed the salutary words of Maurice McCabe: "If I had known then what I was facing, I would never have done it. Never."
Katie Hannon's programme ends on an optimistic note, with Mr McCabe expressing confidence that the new commissioner can transform An Garda Síochána.
But he cannot do it alone and he cannot do it without a sea-change in the Government's relationship with the force.