The litany of smears against the good name of Sergeant Mau­rice McCabe failed to de­rail a good man and the wife who stood with him, writes Michael Clif­ford, as he pub­lishes a new book on the sub­ject.

The litany of smears against the good name of Sergeant Mau­rice McCabe failed to de­rail a good man and the wife who stood with him, writes

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Michael Clif­ford

Some books have their ge­n­e­sis in the cra­zi­est places, but the ori­gin of A

Force For Jus­tice is pretty


I was at home one May evening in 2013, mind­ing the kids when I got a call from a num­ber I didn’t recog­nise. An­swer­ing these kind of calls is al­ways a gam­ble. It could be some­body with a story, which might re­quire pa­tience, fil­ter­ing, more pa­tience, in­ter­ject­ing with a few ques­tions, in­vok­ing Job for his pa­tience, and fi­nally re­al­is­ing that the per­son on the other end of the line has a griev­ance but no story.

It could be some­body with a story, an av­er­age guy who just wants an is­sue in­ves­ti­gated, and is of­fer­ing a few facts that might lead to more. Or it could be one of those rare times when you just strike lucky with the bones of an ex­cep­tional story. Or some­times, the call is just from a voice flog­ging some­thing or won­der­ing whether you’re happy with your broad­band.

On this oc­ca­sion, the caller made him­self known. He had some se­ri­ous in­for­ma­tion about the ‘ticket-fix­ing’ scan­dal that had been in the news. A few weeks pre­vi­ously, an in­ter­nal garda re­port was pub­lished into how thou­sands of speed­ing tick­ets had been quashed. The gen­eral out­come was that there wasn’t a whole lot to see here, ex­cept a few dis­grun­tled cops spread­ing ma­nure.

The man on the line was per­sua­sive. He main­tained that there was a story that was largely be­ing ig­nored. The real story was a scan­dal that was be­ing cov­ered up. It was not just, he as­serted, about well-con­nected peo­ple get­ting speed­ing tick­ets fixed. It was wide­spread abuse right across the gar­daí. Up to that point, the ticket-fix­ing story hadn’t floated my boat. I had con­sid­ered it to be about a few high-pro­file in­di­vid­u­als — a judge, a TV per­son­al­ity, and a sports star were among those men­tioned — get­ting sorted out. That kind of carry-on wasn’t much of a sur­prise and there were more im­por­tant things go­ing on in the world.

There was an­other rea­son that I hadn’t got stuck into the story. When it first sur­faced six months pre­vi­ously, I’d men­tioned it to a col­league — with whom I’d worked some years pre­vi­ously — who knew the crime beat. When we spoke about it, he pointed his in­dex finger to the side of his head and twirled it around.

“Those lads are mad,” he said. He went on to de­tail how one of them had been in­volved in some mi­nor in­ci­dent years pre­vi­ously and was an at­ten­tion­seeker. Hav­ing only had a pass­ing in­ter­est in it, that lit­tle nugget of in­for­ma­tion was enough to steer me clear of the whole thing. Like most jour­nal­ists, I’ve met my fair share of peo­ple who are drawn, moth-like, to the me­dia, but who have lit­tle that needs to be dis­sem­i­nated in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Look­ing back, that ex­change with my col­league should have set off alarm bells for me. About 15 years pre­vi­ous to that, an­other garda scan­dal was in its in­fancy in Co Done­gal.

The nu­mer­ous in­stances of cor­rup­tion that ul­ti­mately led to the Mor­ris Tri­bunal sit­ting for six years were leak­ing out into the pub­lic. Pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Billy Flynn had been hired by the McBrearty fam­ily in Raphoe to in­ves­ti­gate whether they were be­ing set up by the gar­daí. I knew Billy well. (He died in 2010 at the age of 64.) We had worked on a few sto­ries to­gether, in­clud­ing that of the vi­o­lent deaths of Una Lynskey and Marty Ker­ri­gan, which fea­tured on these pages last week. Billy first in­tro­duced me to the peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with that 1970s tragedy in 2001.

In the late 1990s, Billy asked me to take a look at the go­ings-on in Done­gal. I de­murred. I’d heard in me­dia cir­cles that the whole thing was down to the crazy rav­ings of a garda sergeant’s wife. This was Sheena McMa­hon, a coura­geous and grace­ful woman who would ul­ti­mately be highly com­mended for her ser­vice to the State by the chair of the Mor­ris Tri­bunal. In the great tra­di­tion of whistle­blow­ers, she was the sub­ject of false and ma­li­cious ru­mours. Big mis­take on my part. Billy Flynn’s work broke the case wide open. Done­gal was a hugely im­por­tant story that led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Garda Síochána Act in 2005, the first real at­tempt to re­form the work­ings of the force.

Now, with a story about quash­ing tick­ets and ru­mours, it was déjà vu all over again. False ru­mours were gen­er­ated and spread to de­flect any in­ter­est in the story.

That night in May 2013 changed it all. Against my bet­ter in­stincts, and prob­a­bly to dis­tract me from hy­per­ac­tive kids, I told the voice at the end of the line to come to my home.

He ar­rived and we sat down. He opened a card­board folder and showed me de­tails of the real story be­hind the re­cently pub­lished in­ter­nal garda re­port. The abuse of the ticket-fix­ing was wide­spread and the proof was eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble.

This man kept me up half the night. My wife ar­rived home at some stage and in­quired whether the kids had brushed their teeth be­fore go­ing to bed. “What kids?” I replied. “Do you not re­alise that there are peo­ple out there hav­ing their speed­ing tick­ets fixed on the ba­sis that they were re­turn­ing home to stop ‘bees at­tack­ing live­stock’?”. An­other ex­cuse given for quash­ing a speed­ing ticket was that the mo­torist was “late for a swim­ming les­son”. These were ex­am­ples of the ex­cuses in­serted to sort out friends and ac­quain­tances for their speed­ing tick­ets.

There­after, it was just a mat­ter of fol­low­ing the story. That re­quired per­se­ver­ance, sleep­less nights, and not a lit­tle stress, the kind of stuff en­dured in most jobs. Along the way, I met all sorts of peo­ple who left me with a lot of hu­mil­ity.

Mary Lynch is a taxi driver who was vi­ciously as­saulted in 2007 by a man who went on to mur­der an­other woman nine months later. Her case was mis­han­dled by gar­daí op­er­at­ing out of Bailiebor­ough, Co Ca­van and she was de­nied her day in court, she be­lieves, be­cause she would have pub­licly crit­i­cised the short­com­ings in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mary showed brav­ery and for­ti­tude in how she dealt with what had be­fallen her. She is a strong woman who ini­tially was led to be­lieve that Mau­rice McCabe was be­hind the mis­han­dling. Af­ter meet­ing him, she re­alised the truth. Her case forms a chap­ter in A Force For Jus­tice.

Many other peo­ple whom I in­ter­viewed for the book wished to re­main anony­mous, but felt com­pelled to tell what they knew about what Garda McCabe had been sub­jected to. This in­cluded both serv­ing and re­tired mem­bers of An Garda Síochána.

Imet the man him­self in his home in Co Ca­van. He was, and is, con­strained in how he can talk about any­thing to do with the force as he is still a mem­ber. (Iron­i­cally, the law that pro­hibits him talking is a sec­tion in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which was brought in by then Min­is­ter for Jus­tice, Michael McDow­ell, who is now McCabe’s se­nior coun­sel.)

Garda McCabe’s home en­vi­ron­ment is com­pletely at odds with the stereo­typ­i­cal im­age of a whistle­blower as a loner, or some­body who wres­tles with their con­science.

He was sim­ply a guard who was thrown, by cir­cum­stances, into a sce­nario where he felt he had to do the right thing. He is a fam­ily man, a fa­ther of five, mar­ried to Lor­raine, an­other woman of quite amaz­ing strength who was his rock through the years of or­deal.

TD Clare Daly re­lates in the book how she grap­pled with the dis­tance be­tween the mild-man­nered Ca­van man she met and the man she con­sid­ers a hero who has done more for mod­erni­sa­tion of the gar­daí than any­body else.

There are three sep­a­rate as­pects to the Mau­rice McCabe story. In the first in­stance, there is the shoddy and in­com­pe­tent work which left the vic­tims of crime bereft. This strand also in­cludes the cor­rup­tion of the penalty-points sys­tem which saw favoured mo­torists let off scot-free, ar­guably com­pro­mis­ing ef­forts to bring safety to the roads.

The sec­ond strand con­cerns Garda McCabe’s ef­forts to have these is­sues ad­dressed. Time and again, he came up against the im­pen­e­tra­ble blue wall be­hind which the force op­er­ates.

The most shock­ing strand is the ef­forts made to si­lence Garda McCabe, to os­tracise him from his col­leagues and the in­sti­tu­tion that was his life. There were a num­ber of at­tempts to boomerang blame for cock-ups back onto him. None of these suc­ceeded.

At one point, there was even what could be in­ter­preted as a death threat. For­mer garda John Wil­son re­lated to me how, when at­tend­ing a large gath­er­ing of mem­bers in 2010,

“Now and then I was rid­dled with doubt. The ev­i­dence was clear. Garda McCabe’s char­ac­ter sug­gested a se­ri­ous and gen­uine man. Yet, could ev­ery­body else be wrong?

one openly said: “What Mau­rice McCabe needs is a bul­let in the head.”

Garda Wil­son re­lated this back to Garda McCabe and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched. No­body was pros­e­cuted. In­ex­pli­ca­bly, no dis­ci­plinary process was ever ini­ti­ated against the mem­ber al­leged to have made the comment.

An in­sight into the lengths that some ap­peared to be will­ing to go to tar­get the whistle­blower is ev­i­dent in the chap­ter about the miss­ing com­puter. This fea­tured in the O’Hig­gins Com­mis­sion, but was first re­ported in the Ir­ish Ex­am­iner in 2014.

A com­puter seized from a priest, who was sub­se­quently jailed for child abuse of­fences, went miss­ing in Bailiebor­ough sta­tion. Garda McCabe had noth­ing to do with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the priest or the ex­hibits seized. Yet, when the van­ished com­puter be­came an is­sue, a dis­ci­plinary process into Garda McCabe was ini­ti­ated.

Through his for­ti­tude and with the help of a col­league who had sym­pa­thy for what was be­ing done to him, he man­aged to clear his name.

The O’Hig­gins Com­mis­sion ruled that Garda McCabe “formed the view that there was a plot against him and other gar­daí were out to blame him”.

“While there is no ev­i­dence of any con­certed at­tempt to blame Sergeant McCabe it is un­der­stand­able that he might con­nect the com­mence­ment of dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings with the com­plaints he had made a short time ear­lier and that he might feel ag­grieved,” the com­mis­sion stated.

Delv­ing into the story was both chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing. In the early days, there were times when I felt I was miss­ing some­thing. There was lit­tle take-up for the story else­where in the me­dia. Ru­mours abounded about Garda McCabe’s char­ac­ter. The spin machines, both in the force and among large swathes of the body politic, was work­ing over­time against him.

Now and then I was rid­dled with doubt. The ev­i­dence was clear. Garda McCabe’s char­ac­ter sug­gested a se­ri­ous and gen­uine man. Yet could ev­ery­body else be wrong?

One day in early 2014, I briefly found my­self in the com­pany of Conor Brady, the for­mer edi­tor of the

Ir­ish Times and for­mer chair of the Garda Om­buds­man Com­mis­sion. We barely knew each other, but in the course of a con­ver­sa­tion about the garda con­tro­ver­sies, he asked had I met Garda McCabe.

“He’s an im­pres­sive guy,” Mr Brady said. “A se­ri­ous man who should be lis­tened to.”

Mr Brady had en­coun­tered the sergeant via his for­mer role in GSOC.

At that point I re­alised my doubts were un­founded. I was not crazy (well, not too crazy). Ev­ery­thing did make sense. Three days af­ter that en­counter, Mr Brady went on the

This Week pro­gramme on RTÉ Ra­dio and said much the same thing in pub­lic. To my mind, that was a cru­cial mo­ment in the tide of pub­lic opinion turn­ing in re­la­tion to Garda McCabe.

A cru­cial junc­ture in the Mau­rice McCabe story was his ap­pear­ance at the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee in 2014 where he out­lined the cor­rup­tion in the ‘squar­ing’ of speed­ing tick­ets. For the first time in six years, he felt that he some­body was ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing to what he was try­ing to ex­pose.

The chair of the com­mit­tee, John McGuin­ness, told me that he had been highly im­pressed by Garda McCabe’s pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­mit­tee be­hind closed doors.

“I got the im­pres­sion that on one level he felt he was speak­ing for the or­di­nary guards in the coun­try, the type of in­di­vid­u­als we know and re­spect who want to do their best at the job,” McGuin­ness said.

There would be low points even af­ter that vin­di­ca­tion. Be­hind the closed doors of the O’Hig­gins com­mis­sion in 2015 there was an al­leged at­tempt to smear him. That episode will be ex­am­ined by the Dis­clo­sures Tri­bunal cur­rently sit­ting in Dublin Cas­tle.

There was the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of the er­rors in Tusla that had him falsely la­belled as a child sex abuser. The de­tail of how that came about makes for chas­ten­ing read­ing and was heard at the tri­bunal last July.

One el­e­ment of the story that leaves a last­ing im­pres­sion is the ac­count given by Lor­raine McCabe of the years of stress and worry had on their grow­ing fam­ily.

In par­tic­u­lar, Lor­raine re­mem­bers the neg­a­tive sto­ries that were ped­dled about Mau­rice.

“The run-up to any events that had a pub­lic di­men­sion [e.g. First Holy Com­mu­nion] was filled with dread in case an­other story would ‘hit the press’ and ruin the oc­ca­sion,” she says. “I have also had to con­stantly worry about the next item of pub­lic­ity, to fig­ure out how to shield our chil­dren from its ef­fect and to worry about what they might have heard in the school­yard.

“Many times I have sim­ply cho­sen to aban­don plans and to stay at home rather than face the world in the wake of yet an­other story.”

The Mau­rice McCabe story is about the per­se­ver­ance of one man against some of the most pow­er­ful forces in state. It is about the in­ter­face of polic­ing and pol­i­tics. How­ever, it is also about a per­sonal jour­ney of that man and his fam­ily. They paid a high price for dis­com­mod­ing the cen­tres of power.

Hope­fully, A Force For Jus­tice does some jus­tice to their story.

Pic­ture: Barry Cronin

Garda whistle­blower Sergeant Mau­rice McCabe and his wife Lor­raine pho­tographed at their home in Mount Nu­gent on the Co Ca­van/ Co Meath bor­der. ‘A se­ri­ous man who should be lis­tened to,’ said for­mer ‘Ir­ish Times’ edi­tor Conor Brady.

Mau­rice McCabe, right, and John Wil­son, above. Garda Wil­son re­lated a story how at a large gath­er­ing of mem­bers in 2010 a fel­low garda said that Garda McCabe “needed a bul­let in the head”. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched but no one was pros­e­cuted.

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