Miriam Lord: Callinan’s show of ‘disgust’ rings hollow

Gardaí were quick to dish the dirt on McCabe, but not to set the record straight

Garda commissioner Martin Callinan appearing before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in 2012.

 

Just over three years ago, former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan appeared before an Oireachtas committee.

It was held on the morning of Thursday, January 23rd.

People might not remember the date, but they will remember what happened.

This was the day of the “disgusting” meeting.

Frankly, I think it is quite disgusting – on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting - Martin Callinan 

Callinan was before the Public Accounts Committee to address allegations by two whistleblowers that some members of the force were illegally quashing penalty points for motorists.

Here’s what Callinan said about “so-called whistleblowers” at the time: “Quite clearly here, we have two people out of a force of over 13,000 who are making extraordinary, serious allegations and there isn’t a whisper anywhere else, from any other member of the Garda Síochána about this corruption, this malpractice and all of those things that are levelled against their fellow officers.

“Frankly, I think it is quite disgusting – on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting.”

Those were the standout words of that unsettling meeting.

At the time, the bullish commissioner was accompanied by an impressive display of top brass. Nóirín O’Sullivan, his second-in-command and eventual successor, sat next to him. And directly behind was Dave Taylor, then Garda press officer.

Today, O’Sullivan is at the centre of a storm involving an alleged smear campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe, while Taylor has turned whistleblower and is among those levelling allegations.

This storm is now buffeting Enda Kenny’s Government.

Peeved

At the 2014 meeting, Callinan didn’t want to concede an inch on the penalty points issue, despite some very compelling evidence to indicate a problem existed.

He sounded peeved at having to discuss internal Garda matters, pertaining to “my force”, with a bunch of civilians.

The TDs were more or less told that it was none of their business.

“Isn’t it extraordinary that it’s just two people that are making huge allegations?” Callinan airily remarked. “Why isn’t it dozens? Hundreds?”

Unlike most others in the committee room, he was blissfully unaware that his overbearing performance was providing a very big pointer to the reason why.

I covered that meeting and was, along with a number of colleagues who attended, taken aback by the arrogant and dismissive nature of the witness’s testimony.

Many of the politicians who participated were similarly struck by his imperious approach.

Who would be a whistleblower in that sort of regime?

But what happened immediately afterwards struck me the most.

The main Oireachtas committee rooms are located in the basement level of the modern Leinster House 2000 annex. After meetings, people spill out into a spacious concourse area and usually congregate at the coat racks.

On that day, members of the Garda delegation mingled with journalists and observers as they left the PAC session. A lot of them knew each other. There was the usual small talk around the coat racks, but there were mutterings about the commissioner’s evidence.

I remarked to somebody that I wasn’t at all impressed by his attitude and evidence.

I got back a tirade in the most colourful of language about Maurice McCabe and what an awful person he was and if I only knew the half of it I wouldn’t be so quick to criticise the commissioner. The “half of it” included insinuations about inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.

This didn’t come as news – the rumours were already floating around.

Venomous

I looked around at the uniformed officers, the top layer of law enforcement in Ireland, and thought of the venomous denunciation of whistleblowers which had just happened at the committee.

And I thought about those words in the concourse, and the vehemence of their delivery.

It didn’t tally with descriptions of McCabe I’d heard from politicians and colleagues. Cussed, dogged individual he might be, but there was never a question about his character.

The words left a bad taste. There was something not right. I didn’t believe them.

Then, we weren’t to know that Tusla had received a complaint about McCabe in August of the previous year, claims which were passed onto the Garda. The man at the centre of them didn’t know either.

Martin Callinan, meanwhile, was gone from his job the following March, but not before he had clarified his use of the word “disgusting”.

“That term was not in reference to the character of either Sgt McCabe or former garda [John] Wilson, but the manner in which personal and sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures.”

This would be important stuff about quashing penalty points and the like.

But what about “personal and sensitive” and – as it soon transpired – absolutely baseless talk about McCabe inappropriately appearing in Garda, media and political circles?

‘Clerical error’

In May, four months after the infamous PAC meeting, Tusla admitted the complaint against McCabe was down to a “clerical error”.

Two years on, and the rumours about Sgt McCabe were still doing the rounds.

Nóirín O’Sullivan and her colleagues, one presumes, would have been outraged had they overheard what was said to me in their immediately vicinity on the day of the “disgusting” committee.

It’s hard to credit that, since then, not even a whiff of the disgraceful stories circulating about one of her own members reached Commissioner O’Sullivan’s ears.

News travels rapidly up the chain of command in An Garda Síochána. When Mick Wallace was stopped at traffic lights and told to stop using his mobile phone, the then-commissioner, Martin Callinan, knew about it in no time.

As soon as the devastating complaint about McCabe was proved false two years ago, did an urgent directive travel down the same command chain to highlight this, with orders for an immediate shutdown of hugely damaging rumours about a serving member?

A member to be cherished in O’Sullivan’s new dispensation for whistleblowers?

With serious consequences for anyone disregarding the directive?

Actually, that would have been impossible.

Because to do this, the crème de la crème of Irish policing would have had to know what was going on.

But the only ones who knew were the dogs in the street.

Not a shaggy dog story about Michael Collins

On Tuesday evening, after a long session in the Dáil, the Taoiseach repaired to Government Buildings on Michael Collins-related business. A portrait of “The Big Fella” hangs over the mantelpiece in Enda’s office.

He’s always happy to talk about his hero, so when the Irish Kennel Club got in touch to say he might be interested in some of their Collins memorabilia, the Taoiseach rolled out the welcome mat.

Collins was a very busy man in 1921. He had a lot on his plate, what with the War of Independence and the truce and the negotiations.

He was also involved in the struggle for the independence of Irish dogs. Until 1921, all dog shows in Ireland were held under licence from the English Kennel Club.

But the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club broke ranks and held its own breed show on St Patrick’s Day in Dublin. Collins exhibited Jess, a one-year-old female Irish blue.

He was a big doggie man and the trophy he presented to the club in 1922 is still presented at their annual best of breed show.

The terrier fanciers’ event led to the establishment of the Irish Kennel Club.

On Tuesday, an IKC delegation, led by their president, Sean Delmar, presented the Taoiseach with a framed copy of Michael Collins’s registration document for the groundbreaking Irish blue terrier competition. Collins, of 6 West Terrace in Inchicore, paid two and six to register Jess, who was bred in Killarney and had a very good pedigree.

The Fine Gael leader must have been delighted to find out that his hero’s choice of canine companion was a true blueshirt.

But on a more poignant note, he observed that young Jess was left without her master after Collins’s untimely death in August 1922.

The Kennel Club is bidding to host the World Dog Show in 2021. Fáilte Ireland is already on board and the Taoiseach also pledged support.

Here’s one issue Enda might give a tinker’s curse about

The very earnest Cabinet Committee on Social Policy met earlier this week. Chaired by the Taoiseach, Ministers in attendance included Leo Varadkar (currently in Peru with President Higgins), Katherine Zappone (currently in Seattle), Richard Bruton and Ministers of State Finian McGrath and David Stanton.

They met representatives from a number of Traveller organisations who put their case for the recognition of ethnic status for the community in Ireland.

The meeting went on for longer than expected, with what was described as “spellbinding” contributions from members of the delegation. It was a long, serious and sometimes intense engagement.

As the meeting drew to a close, Martin Collins of Pavee Point indicated he wished to make a closing point. He leaned forward and looked the Taoiseach in the eye.

“I can promise you this,” he said to Enda, pausing for dramatic effect. The room hushed.

“If you recognise Traveller ethnicity, I will personally ensure that the tinker’s curse on Mayo GAA will be lifted.”

That went down very well. But Collins added that while he could get the curse removed, he couldn’t guarantee the Sam Maguire. Mayo still have to go out and win it.

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