The vindication of Sgt McCabe
No grand conspiracy — but Charleton did uncover a grubby attempt to smear Maurice McCabe, writes Maeve Sheehan
THE Disclosures Tribunal report shows how a terrible wrong can take on a life of its own once it gets into the public domain; puffed up on political rhetoric, distorted by agendas, fuelled by lies. It makes the truth harder to find.
After a “dreadful struggle to uncover what may have gone on behind closed doors”, Mr Justice Peter Charleton found no grand conspiracy of state agencies ranged against the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, no evidence that the horrific false rape allegations against him were deliberately manufactured to torpedo his reputation.
What he found was shocking and dangerous, but it was also pathetic, grubby and rather sad; that the State’s most senior garda became so consumed by the whistleblower that he and his inept but willing press officer embarked on a campaign to smear his name.
It was an “utter mystery” to Mr Justice Charleton why the former commissioner, Martin Callinan, chose Superintendent David Taylor as his press officer in the first place.
Charleton was told he was “talented, experienced, articulate”.
“He is not,” said Charleton. “All of this is just plain untrue.” Nevertheless, Taylor was a “constant sidekick” of the garda commissioner and “in and out of his office” during his time as garda press officer from 2012 until 2014.
Charleton said Taylor told a pack of lies to the tribunal but one of his “slightly closer to the truth” statements described a time when Garda management’s frustration with the whistleblower escalated.
In 2013 as the penalty points controversy rolled on and McCabe gained credence, senior Garda management became more “frustrated”. Shackled from speaking publicly and privately they wanted to “stick the boot in”.
The two men embarked on a smear campaign that involved “much nodding and winking” and “no smoke without fire” innuendo about a child abuse allegation made against McCabe by the daughter of a former colleague, which had been thoroughly investigated and the Director of Public Prosecutions said there were no grounds on which to prosecute.
Callinan wanted to “hit back” by making sure journalists were aware of the allegation, dropping it into the conversation when talking to them.
Taylor was a person who “would promise much and deliver little”, Charleton said. Callinan would have eventually seen through his “bluster and spoof ”. Charleton believed that was why the country’s most senior police officer, the man in charge of State security, became directly involved in the smearing of McCabe. He decided that he would do a more effective job than “his incompetent subordinate had already engaged in”.
Over two months, Callinan repulsively denigrated McCabe to “at least” four people in corridors and car parks: Philip Boucher-Hayes, the RTE journalist John Deasy, the Fine Gael TD Seamus McCarthy, Comptroller and Auditor General at a Public Accounts Committee meeting, and John McGuinness, the chair of the PAC. Their testimonies turned out to be the only other evidence that directly linked Callinan to the smear campaign.
That was the truth of the smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe, Charleton found. Then David Taylor twisted the truth to suit his own ends.
By this time, the internal Garda controversies had spread to Government. Martin Callinan was one of the casualties, and Noirin O’Sullivan replaced him as commissioner. One of the first things she had done was shift Taylor sideways to traffic, because she “neither trusted him nor liked him”. Worse was to come.
By 2016, Taylor was under criminal investigation, suspended and facing disciplinary proceedings for repeated unauthorised leaking of sensitive information to the media.
Taylor came up with a strategy to undermine the criminal investigation and disciplinary proceedings and to get his job back, according to Charleton — effectively to jump on the whistleblower bandwagon. He would create a fuss, get some public sympathy and claim he was effectively being set up by Garda HQ .
So it was that Taylor “spun a deceit” that Martin Callinan had orchestrated a smear campaign against McCabe, with the knowledge of Noirin O’Sullivan. Taylor diminished his own role, claiming he was following orders. He took his story to Maurice McCabe and both made protected disclosures.
“[Taylor] quickly ensured that his supposedly confidential disclosure was made as public as possible. He met press people... interacted with concerned public representatives. He claimed that he had been tasked by Commissioner Callinan to use every opportunity possible to brief the media negatively about Maurice McCabe,” Charleton said.
Among those he briefed were independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who championed Garda whistleblowers. Taylor’s “public lie” was enthusiastically taken up and added considerably to public disquiet: “Furthermore, it cast a pall of pretended deceit over the entire police force. Then no one knew better. Now, they do,” Charleton said.
It came to a head one fevered week in February last year when the Dail debated how best to investigate the disturbing allegations of a smear campaign against McCabe.
Brendan Howlin, the Labour Party leader, used Dail privilege to repeat what a journalist had told him: that O’Sullivan had told journalists about the sex abuse allegation — which Charleton later found to be untrue. Days later, RTE’s Prime Time broke alarming news that the child and family agency, Tusla, had falsely accused Maurice McCabe of rape.
Tusla blamed a “transcription error” that resulted in the wrong allegation of child rape going on Maurice McCabe’s file.
The error was notified to Tusla but that failed to kill the false allegation, which continued to have an “afterlife”, resulting in McCabe being accused of rape in a letter opened by his wife two years later.
Another Garda whistleblower, Keith Harrison, weighed in with claims that senior management had leaned on Tusla to intervene in his domestic situation — a case so similar to McCabe’s “it couldn’t be coincidence” and had to come on orders from the “highest level”.
Harrison’s claims would also be scathingly discounted by Charleton.
At the time he was falsely accused, McCabe’s complaints about the Garda were being investigated by a Commission of Investigation behind closed doors. It beggared belief that the false rape allegation was “coincidence”.
According to Charleton, people were “justified” in suspecting that Garda HQ was capable of using social services to destroy the reputation of one of its own members.
A few months later, the narrative was again “manipulated” in a way that damaged Noirin O’Sullivan. “Selected extracts” from the private Commission of Investigation were leaked to the media.
The extracts purported to show how Noirin O’Sullivan had allegedly told her legal team to attack McCabe behind the closed doors of the commission, while appearing to support him in public.
“Public controversy flowed in florid form following on the deception of the media by the persons who leaked selected extracts from the O’Higgins Commission transcript,” Charleton found.
The narrative had “somehow transmogrified over time into an allegation that Maurice McCabe had been maliciously accused before the O’Higgins Commission of multiple and false sexual assault offences with a view to damaging his creditworthiness; that the Garda Commissioner had authorised this; that the minister had been informed; and that the minister [for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald] had stood back and allowed it to happen”.
Both were vindicated by Mr Justice Charleton. The endless controversy played no small part in Noirin O’Sullivan’s decision to resign last year and forced the resignation as Minister for Justice in December. Fianna Fail demanded her head when emails surfaced suggesting she was aware of the Garda’s legal strategy, having claimed she was not.
The full transcripts showed the allegations against O’Sullivan’s alleged legal strategy were without foundation. The disclosures found no evidence that O’Sullivan had any hand, act or part in Callinan and Taylor’s campaign to smear McCabe.
Mr Justice Charleton rejected accusations that she had instructed her legal team to make unfounded allegations against Sgt McCabe, and vindicated and fully accepted the evidence of Frances Fitzgerald.
As Charleton noted, by then much damage had already been done.
‘As Charleton noted, by then much damage had already been done’
LAST Thursday, within a couple of hours, two major political developments occurred. First, around 1pm, we got the final, thorough vindication of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Second, around 3pm, we had the downfall of Denis Naughten, the Minister for Dinners.
The McCabe affair was profound. It dealt with major issues that affect the lives of the people. It was about administrative and political accountability.
It lasted years. It abounded with behaviour that was heroic and behaviour that was atrocious.
The Naughten affair was... well, oh dear. Trivial, pointless and foolish pretty much cover it.
It must be great to be Maurice McCabe, to know you’ve done the right thing, and to have that publicly acknowledged.
And it must be dreadful to be Maurice McCabe. He’s been through hell — denigrated by senior officers in a job he always loved, held up before an Oireachtas Committee as a “disgusting” individual. And accused of one of the worst of crimes, privately lied about, publicly denounced.
It was bad enough that happened to McCabe — to watch as the filth splashed across his family must have been sickening.
There must have been terrible fear — that this would never end, or that it would end on a lie, with a final, crushing defeat, without hope.
Which is pretty much how it’s ended for some of those who tried to do McCabe down. And no, that’s no cause for celebration, either.
McCabe must be exhausted — physically, mentally, emotionally. Those who have been shredded by Judge Peter Charleton’s report can’t be feeling too good either.
McCabe needs time and space to come back from this. Without making a fuss, that should be arranged.
It should have been a simple matter: a) policing gone seriously wrong; b) a diligent sergeant reports it; c) those with managerial responsibility take over and fix things.
Instead, where McCabe’s allegations were not ignored they were given insufficient examination. The message was clear: we are beyond reproach. To suggest otherwise amounts to subversion.
McCabe persisted and they tried to squash him.
We’re hearing melancholic violins played for Noirin O’Sullivan. Yes, she’s absolved of responsibility in some matters — but hold on a minute.
O’Sullivan sat shoulderto-shoulder with her boss, Commissioner Martin Callinan, while he denounced McCabe as “disgusting”. Her evidence on one matter is described by Charleton as “disappointing”, a rather unspecific word in a report noted for its admirably frank, unminced language.
In circumstances where they were taking some risk, politicians such as Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, John McGuinness and John Deasy told what they knew.
Individuals such as Seamus McCarthy (Comptroller and Auditor General) and Philip Boucher-Hayes of RTE did likewise, when it would have been safer to quietly doubt their own memories.
It was surely these accounts — separate, with no axe to grind, nothing to gain — that impressed Charleton.
Only one politician at ministerial level stood up during McCabe’s ordeal. It doesn’t matter that some of us believe that Leo Varadkar has done real harm to this country — in this matter he took a risk in challenging the “disgusting” label being applied to McCabe and Garda John Wilson.
His own Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and all other ministers looked away.
There’s a danger that the McCabe affair will be reduced to a simple formula: heroic sergeant encounters uniquely villainous bad guys and, after many setbacks, is vindicated.
In the 1970s, the Garda Heavy Gang beat people up. Politicians denied it existed. Later, Minister Conor Cruise O’Brien revealed that gardai told him they beat people up. He approved. His government continued to publicly deny the beatings. It was all “Provo propaganda”.
Back then, Vincent Browne interviewed one of the heavies, in this newspaper, and the man talked frankly of what they did, but no one cared enough to do anything.
In every decade since then there have been Garda scandals.
They’ve been reported and the reports dismissed as subversion. Politicians made it clear — the Garda can do no wrong. Whatever you do lads, like Cruise O’Brien we’ll protect you. At the very least we’ll look the other way.
The notion that Martin Callinan and David Taylor are uniquely villainous people, and the buck stops with them, is nonsense.
They acted as the Garda culture told them they should — the way it’s always been done.
When McCabe persisted, senior gardai were implacable — and the ordinary members, through fear or loyalty, stood idly by, at best.
Resulting in the mess described by Charleton.
If the blame is heaped on individuals, there will be no real reform. The culture must be acknowledged and dismantled. No small job.
Meanwhile, Denis Naughten had his mind on dinner.
Setting up rural broadband should have been a simple matter. It’s a technical task, with a financial cost.
Easy steps: a) major infrastructure needed; b) minister sets a process in train; c) the process brings practical proposals back to the minister.
That’s all that was required — political decision, administrative process.
But, in this country, there are ways of doing things. Prime among them: the minister must put his or her stamp on the project — with resulting kudos.
And, of course, the private sector must make a bundle out of it, and must be drawn in by the personal magnetism of the minister.
Denis Naughten has form.
Last April he took a call from a lobbyist who asked if Naughten’s decision on an issue would be A or B.
Dinny should have hung up. Instead, he said what he thought he’d do. When this was revealed, he defended his right to express an “opinion”. Dear God almighty. Listen, Dinny: if you express an opinion on an A-or-B decision, and you’re the one who gets to make the decision, you’re actually saying... oh, forget it.
There were no consequences for Dinny. And he learned nothing.
He should have had no role — none, none and none — in the broadband process, until a bidder and a business plan were brought back to him.
But Dinny, like all ministers, wanted his name on the plaque. He would be Mr Rural Broadband.
So, whenever the bidder felt a bit peckish Dinny showed up with his knife and fork in hand.
Ah, sure, if ye’re having a bite yourself...
Dinny’s dinners, where the elite meet to eat.
Politicians tell us Naughten’s a sound man, so let’s accept there’s nothing dodgy going on. It wasn’t villainy, it was foolishness, you say? OK, I’ll buy that.
Seriously, folks, these are the basics of governance. We’re going to have to set up How-To-Be-A-Minister courses to help these people get through the week.
Fixing the police force will be somewhat more difficult.
Peter Charleton’s report superbly depicts a force physically and psychologically isolated, with a touchy culture. His report should be taken as a starting point.
Ominously, Charleton himself points to the range of reports — not least Judge Fred Morris’s reports on the Donegal scandals — which have been filed and forgotten.
‘Whenever the bidder felt a bit peckish, Dinny showed up with his knife and fork in hand’
CLOSED DOORS: David Taylor (left) and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. The Disclosures Tribunal report praised Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe (above)