Alleged plot to ‘bury’ Maurice McCabe never existed
Former commissioner knew media reports about Supt Cunningham and Sgt Martin were untrue
Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. File photograph: Séamus Kiernan/Westmeath Topic
The decision by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) to discontinue its inquiry into an alleged plot to “bury” Maurice McCabe puts the allegation into clear context.
It has been dismissed to such an extent by the Disclosures Tribunal that Gsoc has taken the unusual step of declining to examine it any further.
The initial allegations, set out by the Irish Examiner, stated two Garda members had been just about to go into the O’Higgins Commission in 2015 three years ago and allege Sgt McCabe had told them some of his complaints were motivated by “malice”.
But, the Irish Examiner report by Michael Clifford claimed Sgt McCabe was able to produce a secret recording he had made of their meeting in 2008 and stop the plot against him in its tracks.
The two Garda members were not named in the Examiner’s report. But they were named – as Supt Noel Cunningham and Sgt Yvonne Martin – in an impassioned speech 12 days later in the Dáil by Mick Wallace TD.
“[Two] gardaí were planning to perjure themselves or provide false evidence to impugn Sgt McCabe’s motives until a recording was produced,” Mr Wallace said in the Dáil under privilege on May 25th, 2016.
He then shouted across the Dáil chamber at then minister for justice Frances FitzGerald: “What did [then commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan] do about it at the time? I’ll tell you what she did about it, Minister, she did nothing about it, she did nothing.
“Maurice McCabe would be buried, buried by now, if he hadn’t of taped the conversation.”
It has since been found, by the Disclosures Tribunal, that no such plot to impugn McCabe existed. Indeed, Yvonne Martin never gave evidence to the O’Higgins Commission nor was she ever set to give evidence.
On the same day Mr Wallace spoke in the Dáil, Nóirín O’Sullivan referred the allegations to Gsoc, via Ms Fitzgerald.
Last March when the former commissioner appeared before the Disclosures Tribunal she said she knew at the time that the reports in the media in May 2016 about Supt Cunningham and Sgt Martin were untrue.
But it remained that “erroneous facts and distorted truths” had entered the public domain. While untrue, they were so serious she felt compelled to send them to Gsoc. It is that Gsoc inquiry which has now been discontinued.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton pressed her on this; quizzing her about why she sent allegations to Gsoc – published by the Irish Examiner and RTÉ and then taken up by other outlets – that clearly were not true.
“That is something that I won’t understand until my dying day,” he told her.
If she, Ms O’Sullivan, had issued a statement saying Sgt Martin was never even due to be a witness at the commission, people may have accepted the reports in the media were without foundation.
However, Ms O’Sullivan said the situation after such serious allegations were published was so fraught she felt she could not speak up.
“Nobody was going to accept my word,” she said. It was only fair to Supt Cunningham and Sgt Martin to refer the matter to Gsoc as it was the appropriate avenue “to have their names cleared, so to speak”.
RTÉ has already apologised to Mr Cunningham and made a settlement. Other libel proceedings arising from the episode are also under way against The Irish Examiner, Sunday Business Post, TV3 and Sunday Times.