Explainer: what is the McCabe controversy about?

So who exactly knew what, and when? And what has it got to do with the Government?

Matters linked to the Garda whistleblower controversies have been ongoing for several years.

 

What is all this about?

Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe made a number of allegations of garda malpractice, including but not limited to, the cancelling of penalty points. Many, though not all, of his accusations were found to be well-grounded in an investigation by Judge Kevin O’Higgins in a report published last year, which found significant failures by the Garda.

Sgt McCabe believes he was the subject of an organised campaign to discredit him by senior gardaí as a result of the whistleblowing claims that he made.

Last year, David Taylor, a senior officer who was previously head of the Garda Press Office, made a “protected disclosure” under whistleblower protection laws, which supported and illustrated Sgt McCabe’s claims. He says he was directed and encouraged by his superiors - including the Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan - to blacken McCabe’s name. Ms O’Sullivan firmly rejects his allegation.

The Garda Commissioner is facing a public inquiry into potentially criminal activity that she was either actively involved in or at least aware of. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

What has this got to do with the Government?

David Taylor’s protected disclosure was made to the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last year. She immediately passed it to a retired judge, Iarfhlaith O’Neill, asking him to make a report to her on whether the claims needed further investigation.

Late last year, Mr Justice O’Neill reported to Ms Fitzgerald that the allegations warranted the establishment of a Commission of Investigation - essentially an inquiry held in private by a judge - to find out who was telling the truth. Last week, the Government decided to do that, asking a Supreme Court judge, Peter Charleton, to undertake the task. The terms of reference for his inquiry focussed on the alleged garda campaign against McCabe, and the contacts they had with some journalists.

How are Tusla involved?

On Thursday night, RTÉ’s Prime Time programme broadcast details of a file created by Tusla, the state’s child protection agency, which contained false allegations of sexual assault against a child by Sgt McCabe. The agency said the claim was a result of a “clerical error”. However, even after the error was discovered, the claim of sexual abuse against McCabe was pursued. It was also passed onto the gardaí. McCabe believes that may have been part of the campaign against him.

How does that affect the Government?
The day after the Prime Time programme - Friday - Minister for Children Katherine Zappone issued a statement saying she had met the McCabes to discuss the Tulsa allegations and had informed relevant Government colleagues. But both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said they did not know anything about the Tusla file and the allegations in it until they saw the RTÉ programme.

So who exactly knew what, and when?

This is what has got the Government into such difficulty. On Sunday, the Taoiseach said in an RTÉ radio interview he had met Ms Zappone before she met the McCabes. He told her, he said, to make sure she took notes of the meeting.

Ms Zappone later contradicted that, but insisted she told the Taoiseach about the Tusla file before the Cabinet meeting last week.

The Taoiseach subsequently accepted that on Tuesday, February 14th and apologised to the Dáil for giving a mistaken account of events. Now he and Ms Zappone say they briefly discussed the matter, but not in detail.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he gave details of a meeting with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone which, in fact, never took place. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

And yet, despite not knowing the details of the affair, the Taoiseach was still able to tell her that the Tusla issue would be covered by the then proposed terms of the Commission of Investigation.

To the Opposition, that just doesn’t add up.

What’s happening with the investigation into the McCabe allegations of the smear campaign now?

On Tuesday, February 14th, the Cabinet decided essentially to upgrade this investigation into a full-blown public Tribunal of Inquiry. It has not yet decided whether it should include the cases of other garda whistleblowers, some of whom make similar claims to Sgt McCabe.

What’s the Dáil motion of no confidence about?

All parties support the establishment of the tribunal to investigate the treatment of Sgt McCabe. But the Government’s handling of the affair has led to a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence, which is scheduled for this evening in the Dáil.

However, that is likely to be supplanted by a Government motion of confidence in itself. Fianna Fáil says it will abstain on the motion, allowing it to pass, and saving the Government. But only if it wants to be saved - the Independent Alliance have yet to say what they will do, and senior members were professing themselves troubled by the Taoiseach’s changing versions of the story.

What are the implications?

The future of the Government is imperilled and the Taoiseach has been profoundly damaged by his handling of the affair. Fine Gael backbenchers are furious.

Leadership contenders Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar have been trying to calm them down and dissuade those who are spoiling to get rid of Mr Kenny. The controversy has almost certainly shortened his remaining time as leader, perhaps drastically.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are considered the frontrunners to replace the Taoiseach. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Meanwhile, the Garda Commissioner is facing a public inquiry into potentially criminal activity that she was either actively involved in or at least aware of. She absolutely denies all that, but it’s hard to think of anything like this happening before.

So it isn’t over yet?

It sure isn’t.