Cause for concern

Sat, May 10, 2014, 07:10

Seán Guerin’s confined remit was explicitly not to examine the substance of Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s claims about Garda investigations. He was asked to establish whether they had been handled properly and concludes, with what many will see as remarkable understatement, that there is “cause for concern as to the adequacy of the investigations”.

Cause for concern too about the treatment of Sgt McCabe, whose credibility and honour, Mr Guerin goes out of his way to commend. Organisations which find themselves unable to heed the warnings of one of their own held in such high regard are, he argues, doomed to fail.

The overall impression given by the internal Garda investigative process “was that complaints ... were put through a process of filtration or distillation so that, by the end of the process, any matter of concern had been removed as a form of impurity, and only what was good was found to remain.” To restore public confidence in the Garda, there is now an unarguable case for a full commission of inquiry.

It will be no small task – Mr Guerin sets out an agenda of no fewer than 14 issues to be dealt with – Sgt McCabe’s agenda endorsed – ranging from specific criminal investigations to management of Bailieboro Garda District, sexual harassment of trainees, corruption in relation to Pulse records ... He also makes multiple recommendations about reforms in Garda procedures that should be implemented now.

The best construction that can be put on the conduct of the former minister for justice and his department is that their diffidence in investigating such claims arose because they saw themselves being drawn into operational matters and command decisions that normally, and rightly, would be the commissioner’s reserve. And, it appears, encouraged by Garda management, they saw Sgt McCabe as a jobsworth nuisance who should not be indulged.

Yet, as Mr Guerin points out, in these areas the minister has an “important and independent investigative function”, an exceptional statutory obligation to pursue the matter properly unless satisfied that the allegation is “not made in good faith or is false frivolous or vexatious”.

Instead the department and minister were “invariably” content simply to refer complaints on to the commissioner, and then rely on his response, even if he was one of those accused of misconduct. As Mr Guerin points out, giving him the right to respond to the claims was appropriate, but “it is a different matter to be entirely satisfied by that response”.

And then there’s the dog that didn’t bark – Mr Guerin’s paper trail search strangely found no written advice from officials to the minister about his statutory function or how he should exercise it. A measure perhaps of an unhealthy climate of denial and dysfunctionality within the department – the buck rightly stopped with Alan Shatter, but what are officials for?

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