General election would be futile

McCabe controversy

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

If ministerial ineptitude and party considerations derail a sworn inquiry into the sordid abuse of Sgt Maurice McCabe because of his proven complaints of wrongful and illegal activities within the Garda Síochána, voters will lose faith in politics. A general election would settle nothing at this time and the Government should agree the terms of reference for the Charleton commission, to include spurious allegations of child sex abuse, for adoption by the Dáil. Every effort must be made to convince Sgt McCabe this is an appropriate way forward.

These issues touch on public confidence in the Garda, on impartial policing, on national security and on the probity of senior gardaí. The allegations are specific: did Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and her predecessor Martin Callinan encourage or participate in an orchestrated campaign to intimidate and discredit Sgt McCabe? This forms the basis of a sworn deposition by former head of the Garda press office Supt David Taylor. The murky role of the Health Service Executive and Tusla in circulating false allegations of child sexual abuse against Sgt McCabe also requires detailed investigation. Because of the urgency surrounding the primary issue, however, it – and other matters connected with Tusla – might best be explored in a second module.

Despite growing political pressure, the Garda Commissioner insists she will stay on because she has done nothing wrong. The easiest option, she said, would be for her to step aside, pending the Charleton report. She had not been part of a campaign to spread rumours about Sgt McCabe and she “did not know it was happening at the time it was happening”. This acknowledgment that such a campaign existed goes to the heart of Garda culture. It is a small advance but raises uncomfortable questions of trust. Earlier, Micheál Martin qualified his support for Ms O’Sullivan and he invited the commissioner to consider her position. It may reflect Fianna Fáil’s discomfiture because of its reluctance to vote against the Government on this occasion.

In its rickety existence, the minority Government has never looked so vulnerable. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are at odds over the information she gave him about Sgt McCabe and Tusla; Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is in conflict with Fianna Fáil spokesman Jim O’Callaghan over what he told her about Tusla, and Mr Kenny is fighting a rearguard action because of Fine Gael’s poor showing in opinion polls. In those circumstances, Sinn Féin’s pre-emptive “no confidence” motion in the Government was a tactical mistake. Fianna Fáil has indicated it will abstain under a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. If so, the Government may survive with a full complement of Ministers. In any event, a general election should be avoided.