THAT the careers of at least two people could have been ruined by the findings of an interim report that was greatly at odds with the final one on the matters which were the subject of their inquiries is a travesty of justice that should not have happened and is something that must be guarded against in the future. The culture of mobs – including many of our politicians and some sections of the media – baying for blood and looking for people to fall on their swords before matters of public importance are properly inquired into is something that is both insidious and distasteful and should never become a substitute for the due process that people who are accused of something are entitled to.
The initial Guerin Report into the handling of the allegations made by Garda whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, about Garda mismanagement of how certain investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan Division were conducted precipitated the resignation of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter two years ago this month, which seemed to suit the under-fire Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the time after months of controversy that damaged the government parties in the local and European elections.
It came in the wake of the ‘early retirement’ of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Author of the initial report – compiled in a matter of weeks – barrister Sean Guerin recommended that a commission of investigation was desirable in the public interest in order to ensure continuing confidence in the institution of An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system.
Instead of opening a bigger can of worms, as was the public expectation, the fuller report of the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation – carried out over a much longer period of time – concluded that the handling of whistleblowers’ allegations by both the former Commissioner and Minister was adequate and, while it identified serious flaws and failures in criminal investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan division in 2007 and 2008, it found no evidence of Garda criminality or corruption.
In particular, the 362-page report found that there was ‘not a scintilla of evidence’ to support a claim of corruption against Commissioner Callinan and that he was entitled to have his good name vindicated. An initial Garda defence, later withdrawn and not mentioned in the report, purportedly alleged that Sgt Maurice McCabe was acting out of malice, but it found that he had acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns, even though some of his allegations were inaccurate, incorrect, overstated and unfounded.
The conclusion of the O’Higgins report was that: ‘The examination by the commission of the issues of management and resources showed that there were problems at many levels. Ultimately, however, the failures investigated by the commission were at a human level and caused by poor individual performance and, in many instances, by poor supervision.’
It should be borne in mind that the allegations of Sgt McCabe dealt with by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, the sole member of the Commission, were not the only factors in the ‘early retirement’ of Commissioner Callinan and the resignation of Minister Shatter: The wider penalty points controversy, during which the Commissioner described the actions of the whistleblowers as ‘disgusting,’ the revelations about the practice of taping of telephone conversations in Garda stations and the bizarre allegations about the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission offices being bugged all contributed to the pressures both men were under in the early months of 2014.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who succeeded Alan Shatter as Minister for Justice, said that, while she accepted the findings of the O’Higgins report, she would not admit that the former Garda Commissioner was wronged, opining that she has sympathy for his and Mr Shatter’s plight, but qualifying this by saying that there are many victims. The forgotten ones are the victims of the crimes whose investigations were botched, leading to fatal consequences in one of the cases.
Alan Shatter, for his part, has made a justified call on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to correct the Dáil record in the context of his full acceptance of what the former minister described as the ‘flawed opinions and conclusions’ of the Guerin Report. Mr Kenny has always maintained that both the former Commissioner and Minister for Justice left their jobs of their own volition, giving the impression that it had nothing to do with him, but nobody believes that and it is a bad blot on his political copybook.
Apart from the important vindication of their good name by the O’Higgins report, whatever happens at this stage will provide little or no consolation for Messrs Callinan and Shatter, whose high-profile careers were cut short and who were left with no way back. All one can hope now is that Garda management will learn from the serious failures exposed by Sgt McCabe and documented in this comprehensive report, which makes several worthwhile recommendations that should be acted upon forthwith.