McCabe inquiry: an expedient and imperfect solution

The bigger issues at the heart of this debacle relate to the operations of a dysfunctional police force

A full blown political crisis arising from the smear campaign against Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe has been defused for the moment with the agreement of the Government to hold a full public inquiry into the matter. There was widespread relief in Leinster House yesterday that an immediate general election has been avoided but the events of the past week have exposed the fragility of the minority government.

The Government was pressurised into holding a tribunal of inquiry that would conduct its work in public, rather than a commission of inquiry that would operate in private, because a majority in the Dáil had lined up against its original strategy.

Understandably given his previous experience, Sgt McCabe made clear in recent days that he would settle for nothing less than a public inquiry and, with all of the Opposition parties in the Dáil backing his demand, the Government had no option but to agree.

Nonetheless, some senior Ministers have serious doubts about the capacity of a public inquiry to be more effective than a private one in getting to the truth, never mind the potentially inordinate length of time and enormous cost to the taxpayer that are associated with tribunals.


There is no avoiding the fact that the decision to hold a public inquiry was ultimately made on the basis of political expediency rather than a belief that it is necessarily the best way to proceed.

There has been extraordinary confusion in recent days over the circumstances in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Ministers became aware that false information about the McCabe family was included in a file opened by the child protection agency Tusla, culminating with a damaging admission by the Taoiseach yesterday that he had been “guilty of not giving accurate information” in relation to his dealings with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.

The risk is that this shambolic wrangling over who knew what and when obscures the bigger issues at the heart of the McCabe case which relate to the operations of a dysfunctional police force.

The terms of reference for the inquiry into the smearing of Sgt McCabe have not yet been agreed but will benefit from being tightly framed. That said, they will have to include the contact between Tusla and gardaí as well as the internal operations of the Garda that led to the hounding of a member of the force.

If any good can come out of the ordeal to which Sgt McCabe was subjected, it is the prospect of further reform of An Garda Síochána. But confidence is in short supply.

In the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach listed the various reforms that have introduced over the last decade including the establishment of the Garda Inspectorate, the Garda Ombudsman and the Policing Authority. So far these bodies have not been enough to eradicate a flawed culture at the heart of the force.