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O’Sullivan and the McCabe dilemma

Inside: Politics: Garda commissioner wanted whistleblower to be respected and protected while protecting force against allegations of corruption, tribunal heards

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: Went over to Maurice McCabe and shook his hand. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

So Nóirín O’Sullivan, the former Garda commissioner, yesterday encountered the man who essentially accounted for the end of her career.

At the lunchtime break at her appearance before the Charleton tribunal yesterday, she went over to McCabe and shook his hand and spoke to him and his wife, Lorraine.

Whatever its motives, the encounter looked awkward, according to reporters at Dublin Castle. It’s hard to convey ‘no hard feelings’ under such a public microscope.

Otherwise, it’s clear that O’Sullivan portrayed her responsibility towards her former employee as something akin to a plate-spinning act.


O’Sullivan wanted him to be respected and protected, while she also had to protect the force, and senior officers, against his allegations of corruption.

As we report on our front page story, it left her in a quandary, or "dilemma" as she put it.

Miriam Lord’s let’s-cut-to-the-chase piece says O’Sullivan’s explanation of why she instructed lawyers to question his motivation was confusing.

As Lord writes: “The lawyers were instructed to challenge McCabe’s motivation so she could gain a better understanding of the man. That’s all.

The tribunal lawyer [Kathleen Leader] called her interpretation “unique”.”

What the tribunal is trying to determine is if Ms O’Sullivan was involved in a campaign to discredit or smear Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission (which investigated his findings).

At the heart of it is the fact that the Garda legal team in O’Higgins honed in on the case from 2006/7 when Sgt McCabe faced groundless accusations relating to an alleged incident ten years previously, made by the child of a colleague.

While it has already been determined by the tribunal that any reference to the accusations themselves never played part of the strategy, it is testing the reason why lawyers for the-then commissioner brought up Sgt McCabe’s request for the DPP’s decision to be shown to certain parties (a request that was denied).

Cross examination by Sgt McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell, will occur today. His exchanges with Ms O’Sullivan should be interesting.

The house that Eoin built

Eoin Murphy’s tenure in the Department of Housing reminds you of the Communist leader who was asked (in the 1960s) about his thoughts on the French Revolution of 1789. His response: “It’s too early to say”.

It will take at least five years (and probably a decade) before we know if Murphy was the Minister who delivered housing or the Minister who delivered a house of cards.

Well, it won’t be for the lack of announcements - so many at this stage that it’s getting hard to know where to begin, let alone where to lend.

Yesterday, he summoned all 31 chief executives of the State’s local authorities to his offices for a housing summit.

In advance of it the Minister announced three new schemes as part of the latest attempt to make housing more affordable for first-time buyers, or indeed renters. They were first reported by Pat Leahy yesterday morning

The local authority mortgage scheme, attracted most headlines - and it certainly seems attractive on the face of it.

Murphy, correctly, emphasised the certainty of what is essentially a fixed low-interest (2 per cent) for the entirety of the mortgage. In other words, it’s a tracker mortgage with the State backstopping it.

The Government has big ambitions for the second scheme, and that could have potential if it was scaled up. It essentially liberates State-owned lands to allow private developers build affordable housing.

For purchasers, the attraction of the scheme is that they don’t have to pay the equity (the price of the land) up front. They only pay for the house, and the contractor’s profit margin.

If they sell the house later, they can buy out the equity, interest free. So a house developed on private land might cost €250,000 - but the same house could be offered for €200,00 as the site value portion will have been removed.

The thinking behind the scheme is that if enough State land is offered it will help drive down prices and might encourage equity funds, or developers, that have been holding onto land, to sell it off earlier before the price dips.

So this essentially has the makings of an intervention in the private market, but will it work?

Elsewhere, it will be mid-February before we know if local authorities can meet (or even exceed) Murphy’s goal of providing 3,800 new social homes in 2018.

He also gave a strong indication yesterday that the vacant homes component of Rebuilding Ireland will be much more modest than what was promised.

Very few homes are vacant in the places where demand is highest - and there’s no getting away from that.