Institutions unable or unwilling to investigate their own
Pointed criticism of Department of Justice and Garda management
Sgt Maurice McCabe: Very few people emerge with credit from the report. One who does, however, is McCabe himself, whom the report points out was described by his superiors as committed, energetic, hard-working and trustworthy.
In late January 2008 a meeting took place between Maurice McCabe, a Garda sergeant then based at Bailieboro, Co Cavan, and his superintendent.
Over the previous months, McCabe had grown concerned about how a number of incidents were being handled. He suspected investigations were not being carried out effectively and that proper Garda procedures were not being followed. At the January 28th meeting, he handed over to the superintendent a document outlining his concerns.
That encounter set in train a chain of events that would spread far beyond Bailieboro and would eventually enmesh some of the most senior figures in Irish public life. Six years later, the fallout would contribute to the resignations of the minister for justice, the Garda commissioner and the Garda confidential recipient. It would lead to a statutory inquiry and hasten moves to introduce independent oversight of the force.
- A career shattered
- At a glance: the Guerin report
- McCabe offered ‘200%’ commitment to his role
- Repeat of Bailieboro cases across State would ‘challenge’ confidence in Garda
- Shatter accepted Garda Commissioner’s reponse to allegations ‘without question’
- GSOC criticised over level of co-operation with Guerin
Against that background, and given the gravity of the allegations made by McCabe – including as they did concerns about investigations into sexual offences and assault, and malpractice and corruption in the use of the Pulse computer system – the report by senior counsel Seán Guerin was going to be a significant document whatever his conclusions. But with its forensic analysis of the paper trail and his sharp and pointed criticism, notably of the Department of Justice and Garda management, the report amounts to a damning commentary on these powerful institutions.
It portrays the Garda Síochána as a reflexively defensive institution unable or unwilling to investigate its own, and one seen by the department almost as an extension of itself.
Reviewing internal Garda investigations arising out of McCabe’s claims, Guerin detects “if not an instinctive, at least a routine preference for the evidence of the senior officers in respect of whom complaints had been made”.
That approach was replicated at the highest level in the force. “The commissioner, when accounting for the [internal] investigation to the minister, described the allegations as having been ‘answered’, in such a way as to suggest that the mere fact that an answer had been given was in some way a substitute for a careful assessment of the reliability of that answer having regard to all the available evidence.”
Guerin writes that the overall impression given by the internal Garda investigative process was that complaints or matters of concern 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”. If these deficiencies were widely replicated it “would be a challenge to public confidence in the criminal justice system itself”.
The report doesn’t provide a full picture. Guerin’s terms of reference excluded investigation of the substance of McCabe’s allegations, and his analysis is largely confined – with the exception of a long interview with McCabe – to a review of the documents provided to him by the department, the Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Entirely absent are the accounts of many of the protagonists, including former minister for justice Alan Shatter, former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and their senior officials. Also missing is the perspective of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which Guerin reports indicated a willingness to furnish relevant documentation but did so too late for it to be of any use.