An admission by a government agency that it circulated false allegations of sexual abuse against a Garda police whistleblower has dramatically supported claims that the 26 County state engaged in a smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe with the support of successive police commissioners.
Sgt McCabe (pictured right), the most prominent of a number of Garda whistleblowers, has successfully challenged fraud and corruption in the force in relation to multiple abuses of power, ranging from the cancellation of motoring offences to the sabotage of investigations into serious crimes.
Earlier this week Labour leader Howlin reported claims that Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan (pictured left) had contacted journalists to make false allegations of “sexual crimes” against McCabe. Speaking under parliamentary privilege, Mr Howlin said he was contacted by a journalist who told him he had “direct knowledge” of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 “in the course of which the commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe”.
Mr Howlin added that the journalist who contacted him was prepared to give evidence to a proposed commission of inquiry.
Ms O’Sullivan has denied any wrongdoing, but she now faces an unprecedented examination of her mobile phones and phone records over a period of two years, as a commission headed by Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton is to investigate her contacts with the media.
The Government decided to set up the commission, which has legal powers to compel witnesses to attend and to order the discovery of documents, following an initial inquiry by retired judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill into allegations by another Garda whistleblower, Supt David Taylor.
Supt Taylor, a former head of the Garda Press Office, has already said that he was directed to brief the media with negative stories about Sgt McCabe and to falsely tell journalists that Sgt McCabe’s whistleblowing allegations had been fully investigated and shown to be groundless.
Mr Howlin pointed out that TDs had not been issued with the report by Judge O’Neill on the scandal, even in redacted form, despite the fact that Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has received the report two months ago. He said the current commissioner was in “an untenable position” and should step aside while the commission undertook its work. Sinn Fein also called for her to step aside.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is now facing legal action by Sgt McCabe after it admitted it sent a file containing the false allegations of child sex abuse against the whistleblower to the Gardai. The file included details of Sgt McCabe’s family, including his wife and children, and is understood to have remained active until recently.
The allegations, which have been proven to be untrue, were in wide circulation to senior members of the force. However, no contact was made with the sergeant himself and he was never questioned in connection with the claims.
In 2014, Tusla told the authorities that a “mistake” had been made and attributed the false accusation to a “clerical error”. It was only last year that Mr McCabe became aware that the highly damaging false abuse allegation had been widely circulated.
Sgt McCabe is to take a legal case against Tusla and has met with Minister for Children, independent Katherine Zappone, who has indicated a public apology will be forthcoming. There are also questions over whether Minister Zappone communicated the development to other Ministers, or not, amid ongoing discussions at Cabinet level over the handling of the Commission of Inquiry.
Because the 26 County government is dependent on the support of the Fianna Fail party, there is increasing speculation that the minority Fine Gael-led government could collapse as a result of the scandal.
However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated “full confidence” in Ms O’Sullivan.
“I have full confidence in the Garda commissioner. There is no prima facie evidence of wrongdoing of any kind. For that reason she is fully entitled to the support of the government,” he said.
“You cannot have a country if everyone against whom allegations are made has to step aside.”
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald maintained that the only “logical, common sense and honourable thing” for the Garda Commissioner to do is to step aside for the duration of the commission of inquiry.
“What we’re looking at is an unprecedented situation. I don’t accept that the act of stepping aside is an admission of guilt or that she couldn’t step back in after the Inquiry.”
Ms McDonald described the revelation that Tusla had forwarded a file containing false allegations against Sgt McCabe in a “clerical error” as “getting deeper and deeper into the mire.”
“I don’t think it gets any more serious than this.”