Miriam Lord: Chasm and Dave feature as McCabe concludes evidence
Garda whistleblower’s claims disputed in cross-examination at disclosures tribunal
Michael McDowell, Sgt Maurice McCabe, his wife Lorraine and solicitor Sean Costello arrive at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle on Tuesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to remind me. I’m just lost.”
Not yet midday in Dublin Castle and the chairman was already mired in the tribunal treacle.
If Mr Justice Peter Charleton was having trouble keeping track, what hope for the rest of us?
The confusing detail underpinning the case of Sgt Maurice McCabe and whether he has been the victim of a Garda smear campaign made for heavy going for the last couple of days. But his evidence was compelling, nonetheless.
It was standing room only by the afternoon, with TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace among the observers propping up double doors at the back.
McCabe’s much-anticipated stint in the witness box finished yesterday afternoon. He spent two gruelling days answering questions and looked relieved when he was finally allowed to step down.
Day one ended with a sensational account of when the former head of the Garda press office, Dave Taylor, told him former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and his soon-to-be successor Nóirín O’Sullivan had gone all out to “bury” the troublesome sergeant by mounting a highly intense and very nasty smear campaign against him.
Day two began immediately with Taylor’s lawyer informing the tribunal that her client has a different memory of that conversation and that much of what McCabe attributed to him didn’t actually happen.
McCabe said the pub 'was in full flow with about 40 people on the premises . . . and I believe the owner was quite drunk'. Afterwards, when he looked up the report on the inspection it said: ‘inspected premises, all in order’
In particular, he denies telling him that Callinan had composed vile texts about the sergeant which he had then instructed his press officer to send to senior gardaí, journalists and politicians.
But McCabe stuck to his guns, insisting that his account of what the two men had said to each other was the correct one.
Perhaps he “misremembered” or “misinterpreted,” suggested senior counsel Tara Burns.
But the witness was adamant.
“In fairness, how do you make up such a story?” McCabe asked. “He told me that.”
The chairman pointed out the obvious: “A chasm has opened up.”
“It’s his word against mine at this stage,” shrugged McCabe, bowing to that obvious.
Chasm and Dave.
Another conundrum in this complex saga.
Shane Murphy, acting for the Garda commissioner and senior gardaí, spent time carefully building up a picture of a man who was forever making complaints. He noted McCabe began in 2008 with complaints about “poor policing at ground level” then moved on to complaints about middle-ranking officers, then on to complaints about an assistant commissioner before “it went to the very top” and the commissioner.
“That is correct,” replied McCabe, who keeps his own detailed records. One detail which flashed up in an onscreen document showed that he had “70 voice recordings” relating to his case.
Murphy referred to his “pyramid of allegations”.
At one point, the fact that he had accused the Garda commissioner, among other high ranking officers of “corruption” was considered. He had spoken of “officers’ supporting corruption to save themselves” on the penalty points issue.
Corruption is a very heavy-duty charge to level against any person in a position of authority in a State organisation. The tribunal heard on Monday that the people against whom McCabe made his allegations were “hurt” and “stressed” by them. This is very understandable.
But under questioning from his own counsel, Michael McDowell, it transpired that the An Garda Síochána interpretation of corruption differs from the norm, which relates to people in positions of power accepting inducements to do something. But under Garda regulations, corruption extends to members acting in dereliction of their duty.
McDowell asked McCabe if, when levelling his accusations of corruption, he intended it to mean that these officers were taking money in return for doing a certain thing.
“Never,” was the reply. “Never.”
Instead, he was referring to the “falsification of official records” on the Pulse system in relation to wiping penalty points and the authorities turning “a blind eye” to this. That qualifies as corruption under the Garda regulations.
“In retrospect, do you accept that some other word would have been better?” asked McDowell.
McCabe agreed he could have been more careful. “Malpractice” could have been used instead.
Much of yesterday’s proceedings focused on his evidence to the O’Higgins commission, which was a precursor to the current events in Dublin Castle.
Murphy, for the Garda commissioner, focused on McCabe’s character, highlighting passages from the transcript where O’Higgins had noted that the sergeant was “never less than truthful, if prone to exaggeration”.
Another quote from O’Higgins was pulled out. “There is a tendency that you shoot first and ask questions later.”
McCabe shook his head. “I wouldn’t accept that . . . I have never said I was right all along. All I wanted was reasonable standards, not high standards.”
It wasn’t just on penalty points. He gave an example of unacceptable practice from his time in Cavan. It concerned a pub that was inspected at 3.45am.
“That’s quite late,” murmured Peter Charleton, as the public gallery chuckled. “By Irish standards,” he added.
McCabe said the pub “was in full flow with about 40 people on the premises . . . and I believe the owner was quite drunk”. Afterwards, when he looked up the report on the inspection “it said: ‘inspected premises, all in order’.”
That drew laughter too.
But it was Monday’s testimony about what Taylor allegedly told McCabe concerning a smear campaign conducted against him at the highest level which remained uppermost in the mind for most of yesterday.
The chairman was careful. “At the moment, it is a mere allegation reported by somebody else.”
A case, he cautioned, of “Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi.”
But in that regard, perhaps the most significant development of the day came just before lunchtime when a young barrister arrived with news.
“I’ve taken instructions overnight,” declared Darren Lehane, representing Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.
The Carlow-Kilkenny TD says he met Callinan, at his request, around the time of a Public Accounts Committee hearing into the scandal over the wiping of penalty points.
On Monday, McCabe could barely repeat what McGuinness told him he heard from the commissioner at that brief meeting. He broke down, sobbing and the tribunal was briefly adjourned so he could compose himself.
He struggled out the words. The Garda commissioner allegedly told McGuinness that McCabe had sexually assaulted all his own daughters and his niece. Then he caught McGuinness by the arm and told him it was “very serious”.
When word arrived from McGuinness one day later in the form of Lehane, people in the hall sat up and took notice.
There was a sharp intake of breath on the press benches. The TD was standing up McCabe’s evidence. Yes, he did meet Callinan and yes, he did say those things about abuse. Just one tiny correction. Callinan did not say “all” of his daughters. Callinan denies saying any of this.
But in a difficult day, that briefest of interventions from the Dáil deputy saw the pendulum swing back towards Maurice McCabe.