Whistleblower timeline: A decade-plus struggle for Maurice McCabe
Garda plagued by controversy as third commission of investigation established
In 2008 Westmeath-based sergeant Maurice McCabe raised concerns with his superiors about senior gardaí quashing penalty points.
Nothing was done but in December 2012, he was banned from using Pulse, the Garda’s communication and data storage computer system through which he had been able to analyse the penalty points system and identify questionable quashing of offences. Controversy over the treatment of Sgt McCabe and a swirl of claims and counter-claims about investigations into his claims led to the resignations of then Garda commissioner Martin Callanan and minister for justice, Alan Shatter.
Here, we guide you through the events over more than a decade that have plagued the life of McCabe and the reputation of the Garda force.
January 2006: Sgt Maurice McCabe makes a complaint against a colleague which results in the other garda being disciplined.
December 2006: A complaint of child sexual abuse is made against McCabe by the six-year-old daughter of the same colleague. It centres on a claim that McCabe inappropriately pressed up against the young girl when she was playing hide-and-seek with McCabe’s children.
An investigation is carried out and the Director of Public Prosecutions finds there are no grounds for a prosecution.
November 29th, 2012: An interim report on the practice of gardaí terminating penalty points, in many cases for no stated reason, is sent from Garda headquarters to then minister for justice Alan Shatter. The matter was brought to light by Garda whistleblowers John Wilson and McCabe.
May 15th, 2013: A report by assistant commissioner John O’Mahony into the cancelling of penalty points by gardaí is published. It finds the actions of unnamed gardaí may constitute a breach of rules on Garda discipline. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan says he is “relieved that no evidence has been found to suggest any criminality in the cancellation of fixed charge notices”.
August 2013: Tusla is notified by a counsellor in the northeast of sexual allegations against McCabe by a young woman, understood to be the subject of the original complaint.
However, this allegation is more serious, with claims of digital penetration. The relevant superintendent in charge is not told until May 2nd, 2014.
October 1st and 2nd, 2013: The Comptroller and Auditor General publishes a report on the penalty points scandal, supporting the claims of Wilson and McCabe. Shatter criticises the whistleblowers in the Dáil, alleging they did not co-operate with the Garda investigations into their allegations that gardaí had corruptly terminated penalty points.
The assertion is vigorously disputed by the whistleblowers.
January 2014: Garda commissioner Martin Callinan appears before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). He calls the actions of the Garda whistleblowers “disgusting”. In the same month, McCabe appears before the PAC in private session outlining his concerns over the abuse of the penalty points system.
February 19th, 2014: Taoiseach Enda Kenny announces Garda Confidential Recipient Oliver Connolly has been sacked due to the nature of a conversation with McCabe. On the same day, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says he is in possession of documents that allege a series of murders, abductions and serious assaults that were not properly investigated.
March 10th, 2014: Callinan sends a letter by courier to a senior official in the Department of Justice regarding the recording of incoming and outgoing calls at Garda stations.
March 12th, 2014: The Garda Inspectorate publishes its report into the penalty points scandal. In it, “consistent and widespread breaches of policy” are highlighted, while many of the concerns of the whistleblowers are vindicated.
March 20th, 2014: Then minister for transport Leo Varadkar calls McCabe “distinguished”.
March 23rd, 2014: Enda Kenny is informed about the taping of calls by Attorney General Marie Whelan.
March 24th, 2014: Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell is dispatched to the home of the then Garda commissioner to convey Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s concerns over the recording of calls.
March 25th, 2014: A day full of drama begins with the retirement of Martin Callinan for “family reasons”. Assistant commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan takes over as acting Garda Commissioner.
Later in the day, the Cabinet and the leaders of the main opposition parties are informed by the Taoiseach of the widespread taping of calls into and out of Garda stations since the 1980s. There are up to 2,500 tapes involved. The Fennelly Commission is set up by the Government to examine the practice, as well as the “retirement” of former commissioner Callinan.
March 26th, 2014: Shatter apologises to the whistleblowers and concedes he misled the Dáil by saying they did not co-operate with Garda investigations. “It was never my intention to cause any upset and, if any upset was caused, I hope that my correcting the record of the Dáil today will put this matter to rest.”
April 1st, 2014: At a meeting, the Government decides to establish an independent Policing Authority alongside other associated reforms to the policing and justice system.
April 2014: The Child and Family Agency Tusla opens separate files on McCabe’s family without his knowledge. They all include the claim that he sexually abused a young woman.
May 7th, 2014: Shatter resigns from his ministry following receipt of the Guerin Report into the allegations made by McCabe. Sean Guerin SC concludes the Garda and Shatter failed in their duties to properly investigate matters raised by McCabe.
May 2014: Tusla is contacted by the counsellor to say they made an error and that the allegation of digital penetration had been copied and pasted in error from another case. An apology is offered by the counsellor. Tusla notifies gardaí of the error.
June 2014: A meeting is scheduled between the local superintendent and an assistant Garda commissioner. However the meeting did not take place, according to gardaí.
November 25th, 2014: O’Sullivan is formally appointed Garda Commissioner.
February 3rd, 2015: The O’Higgins commission of investigation is established. Justice Kevin O’Higgins is tasked with examining the claims made by McCabe about corruption and malpractice in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
September 1st, 2015: An interim report by the Fennelly Commission is published. It finds Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not sack former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan. However, it adds that “the catalyst” for Callinan’s retirement came from Kenny’s decision to dispatch Brian Purcell, the then secretary general at the Department of Justice, to Callinan’s home to outline Kenny’s dissatisfaction in relation to the taping controversy.
December 2015: McCabe is contacted to say Tusla has been informed he is the subject of an allegation. He denies the claim.
May 2016: The O’Higgins commission reports on claims McCabe made about malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan division. It finds he did the State a service by raising the allegations, but not all of them were as had been portrayed.
May 13th, 2016: Unpublished documents relating to the commission emerge claiming that when O’Higgins asked O’Sullivan’s barrister whether he was “attacking [McCabe’s] motivation and attacking his character”, counsel for O’Sullivan replied: “Right the way through.”
May 16th, 2016: O’Sullivan moves to address claims she instructed her barrister to “attack” McCabe’s motivation and character. She releases a statement saying: “I want to make it clear that I do not, and have never, regarded McCabe as malicious.” The issue of “malice” relates to the 2008 meeting at which it is alleged he expressed malice toward a senior officer. His recording of that meeting later disproved any such claim.
June 2016: McCabe is informed the sexual assault allegation against him was an error and no such complaint had been made.
October 7th, 2016: The Government appoints retired High Court judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill to review four reports from within the Garda on the treatment of McCabe.
January 2017: McCabe receives information under the Freedom of Information Act outlining the litany of errors. The same month he meets Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to seek a formal apology.
January 24th, 2017: The Government establishes a commission of investigation into allegations that senior gardaí engaged in an orchestrated campaign to discredit McCabe. It is to be headed up by Supreme Court judge Peter Charlton.
February 8th, 2017: Labour leader Brendan Howlin claims in the Dáil that Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan contacted journalists to make allegations of “sexual crimes” against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. O’Sullivan denies the claims.
February 9th, 2017: McCabe announces his intention to take legal action against the State for the false allegations made about him.
February 11th, 2017: The Health Service Executive follows Tusla’s example and apologises to McCabe for the false sex abuse allegation made against him.
February 12th, 2017: McCabe rejects the HSE's apology.
February 14th, 2017: Enda Kenny confirms a tribunal is being set up into the scandal of unfounded and false sex abuse claims being peddled against Sgt McCabe.
February 15th: A second garda, Keith Harrison, who says he also faced false accusations of abuse, meets TDs in Leinster House as Kenny signalls the tribunal of inquiry may be widened to include other whistleblowers.
February 16th: The terms of reference for the Charlton tribunal are published. The Taoiseach says the tribunal will report on issues concerning allegations from Sgt Maurice McCabe within nine months. Kenny says Mr Justice Peter Charleton has agreed to conduct the review, but says he is not certain how long it would take to investigate other aspects of the issue. It is confirmed the tribunal will also investigate Keith Harrison’s allegation that there were inappropriate contacts between the child protection service Tusla and gardaí.
Who are the whistleblowers?
Allegations have been made by senior gardaí of a deliberate campaign by Garda management to undermine the professional and personal reputations of Garda whistleblowers. Senior gardaí have given details of the alleged campaign to the Minister for Justice under the Protected Disclosures Act. So who are the Garda whistleblowers and what happened?
MAURICE McCABE: In 2008, the Westmeath-based sergeant raised concerns with his superiors about senior gardaí quashing penalty points. Nothing was done but in December 2012, he was banned from using Pulse, the Garda’s communication and data storage computer system through which he had been able to analyse the penalty points system and identify questionable quashing of offences. Controversy over the treatment of Sgt McCabe and a swirl of claims and counter-claims about investigations into his claims led to the resignations of then Garda commissioner Martin Callanan and minister for justice, Alan Shatter.
In due course, Sgt McCabe was vindicated in relation to his central complaint.
JOHN WILSON: Penalty points were also at the heart of the case of former garda John Wilson’s whistleblowing which ran in parallel with Sgt McCabe’s efforts to draw attention to abuses of the system. Mr Wilson told TDs about malpractices in the application of penalty points after failing, in his view, to get the matter dealt with adequately through the Garda’s internal complaints system. He retired in 2013 and brought, but lost, a High Court challenge to Garda findings that he had breached discipline by his actions.
NICK KEOGH: In May 2014, Athlone garda Nick Keogh told the force’s confidential recipient, retired judge Patrick McMahon, that senior Garda officers were inflating crime statistics by inducing people to buy drugs from dealers and then sell them to Garda undercover officers, who seized the contraband and reported a crime detected. The then Independent TD Luke Flanagan said Garda Keogh’s efforts to have something done resulted in an internal cover-up with the file of an incident about which he complained being “lost” and data removed from the Pulse system.
KEITH HARRISON: While serving in Athlone in 2009, Garda Keith Harrison prosecuted a colleague (unsuccessfully) for alleged drink driving, despite opposition from senior officers. Afterwards, he claims, he was subjected to bullying and harassment by colleagues and, despite an unblemished record, to unprecedented scrutiny. This resulted in him facing 16 claims of breaches of discipline, four of which were upheld. In December 2015, a High Court judge ordered the Garda to abandon an investigation into him for allegedly intimidating his partner, a claim Garda Harrison denied. Earlier in his career, he received a Scott Medal for bravery.
DAVID TAYLOR: Superintendent David Taylor is the latest whistleblower to be identified. He claims senior Garda management orchestrated a campaign against Sgt McCabe. In June 2014, Supt Taylor was transferred from the Garda Press Office to the Traffic Division amid claims he had been involved in illegally disclosing information about a Garda investigation regarding the alleged abduction of two Roma children. He was arrested in May 2015 and questioned about the alleged leaking. Earlier this year, Supt Taylor, who was suspended over a year ago, sought to stop the investigation. The DPP has yet to decide whether to prosecute over the alleged leaking.
* A number of articles published by The Irish Times on 11th February 2017, 18th February 2017, 21st February 2017 and on 8th January 2018, addressed Alan Shatter’s Ministerial involvement in events relating to Sergeant McCabe and omitted any reference to his subsequent exoneration from allegations made against him in relation to those events. The Irish Times recognises that Mr. Shatter’s conduct as a Minister was fully vindicated by the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation Report in May 2016 and apologises to Mr. Shatter for any reputational damage resulting from the articles.