IN HIS refreshingly-forthright third interim report from the Disclosures Tribunal, Mr Justice Peter Charleton pulled no punches in his assessment of months of evidence given to the module which inquired into the existence or otherwise of a smear campaign against Garda whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe by senior officers in the force. That he concluded there was is hardly a surprise to those who followed the proceedings, but this finding is worrying for An Garda Síochána, making another dent in public trust and adding to the job of work new Commissioner Drew Harris needs to do in order to give it a more open and inclusive culture where whistle-blowers can make complaints without fear of repercussions.
In a statement after the report was published, Mr Harris said that he fully agreed with Mr Justice Charleton when he states that ‘the obligation for members of An Garda Síochána is to the truth, society and the vulnerable, and not to the organisation.’ The report adds that ‘a cultural shift requiring respect for the truth is needed.’
Changing such a deep-seated culture of secrecy and arrogance, embedded into the force over many decades, will be a huge ask for the new Commissioner, but he needs to be ruthless in his quest to do so if he wants to restore the trust and confidence of the public. He owes it also to the majority of the force’s members who go about their work conscientiously.
Mr Justice Charleton’s verdict vindicated Sgt McCabe, former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, but did not spare the rod when assessing the roles and damning the evidence given by another former Commissioner, Martin Callanan, and his former Garda press officer, Supt David Taylor, who he said engaged in lies and smeared the good name of a colleague with vile, unfounded allegations about child abuse, which were confounded by the inept actions of Tusla, the child and family agency, which emerges very badly out of this report.
The evidence of former Commissioner Callinan, denying that he had engaged in attempting to smear the good name of Sgt McCabe, was rejected flatly by Mr Justice Charleton, who asserted that there had been a ‘campaign of calumny’ against the whistle-blower, actively aided by Supt Taylor.
To compound this, the report states that, ‘while many gardaí had a serious problem with Maurice McCabe and his complaints, a rape allegation was conjured out of nowhere. This must be one of the most unlikely coincidences ever to be accepted by any judicial tribunal. Yet, coincidence it was.’
However, the report is, rightly, scathing of Tusla for its ‘astounding inefficiency’ and for how slow it was to respond to the public request for co-operation by the Tribunal. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said that she was ‘extremely disappointed’ by all of this and that she will be asking the board of Tusla to respond to this and the other matters raised in the report.
There is so much in this 400-page report that, hopefully, will lead to a lot of soul searching by those who did not to the right thing by people and made a bad situation even worse with their prevarication and lies purely for the purposes of their own self-preservation. But its most important result was the vindication of people who were wronged, and their families; hopefully, they can pick up the pieces and get on with their lives out of the unjust shadow that has lingered over them for so many years.
In a general comment, Mr Justice Peter Charleton – who is stepping down from the Disclosures Tribunal after this module – bemoaned the way ‘spin’ has taken over so much of public discourse: ‘It seems that our public life is now to be dominated by spin and that plain speaking is elided in favour of meaningless public relations speak. This is a hideous development in Irish public life.’
We have a Taoiseach and a government who are so addicted to such ‘spin’ that they are divorcing themselves from reality and risk paying for it heavily in the ballot boxes when the next general election comes around, if they don’t listen to the people and do the right thing by them.