Fine Gael learns the wrong lessons from the Charleton Tribunal report
by Frank Connolly
The almost hysterical reaction of her former colleagues to the finding by Justice Peter Charleton that Frances
Fitzgerald had done nothing to warrant her resignation from the cabinet in November 2017 is little short of mind-boggling.
Instead of focusing on the extraordinary and shocking findings of the Disclosures Tribunal which found that a former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, had attempted to destroy the character and reputation of Maurice McCabe and, with Garda press officer David Taylor, had run a smear campaign against the garda sergeant, cabinet members thought that the Fitzgerald exoneration was the most important detail to emerge. They also managed to avoid mention in their early comments of the fact that the HSE and the child protection agency, Tusla, had wrongly implicated McCabe in the rape of a young girl and that Tusla had passed on a file detailing absolutely false allegations against McCabe, to Garda headquarters.
While it is understandable that Fitzgerald might seek to get some apology from those politicians who called for her resignation over what she claimed were misleading statements in the Dáil of what she knew or didn’t know of the State’s legal strategy against McCabe, her treatment pales into insignificance compared to the awful damage meted out by various authorities to the garda sergeant and his family.
As with the findings of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in the North West Division, Charleton’s 300-page report is another damning indictment of the culture that permeates the force from the top, and of the failure of both the Department of Justice and successive governments to properly confront the breakdown in Garda discipline.
“A country with an undisciplined police force is at risk from that police force”, Charleton observed, noting that the person who directed the smear campaign of McCabe on behalf of the Garda Commissioner and others has yet to
face any significant punishment over his behaviour.
That behaviour included David Taylor briefing journalists from a range of media outlets with the false claim that McCabe had been implicated in the abuse of the child of a garda colleague in a campaign that culminated with
Callinan informing two politicians, a journalist and the Comptroller and Auditor General that the whistleblower had abused children. McCabe was “a kiddie fiddler”, Callinan told some he met as he hung around the hearing of the Public Accounts Committee in Leinster House before he publicly and infamously described McCabe and another whistleblower, John Wilson, as “disgusting”.
A day later he went further and told PAC member and Fianna Fáil TD, John McGuinness, that McCabe had “sexually abused his family and an individual” and “that he was not to be trusted”.
If it were not for McGuinness; Fine Gael TD, John Deasy; journalist Philip Bouchier Hayes; and the C&AG, Seamus McCarthy confirming to the tribunal what they were each separately told by Callinan, Sergeant McCabe would not
have received the absolute vindication he received from Charleton. Charleton said McCabe was “a paradigm of
decency, who was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer”.
There must have been an element of deja vu for the High Court judge as he was a lead barrister acting for the Morris tribunal in the early 2000s when he was forced to endure a litany of lies and obfuscations from Garda witnesses
during the lengthy hearings into the Donegal fiasco.
In his latest report, the judge concluded that David Taylor gave “Nuremburg” type “daft” testimony that he was only carrying out orders from above. Taylor had implicated Nóirín O’Sullivan, who succeeded Callinan as Commissioner,
in the smear campaign against McCabe but Charleton rejected this assertion. He did find that some of O’Sullivan’s evidence was “disappointing” and of course, the image of her sitting silently beside Callinan at the PAC hearing when he rounded on the “disgusting” whistleblowers will forever taint her legacy.
What remains to be seen is whether there will be a more thorough investigation into the manner in which Tusla became embroiled in the campaign against McCabe and why hundreds of police officers, asked for their recollections, could not recall any such smearing exercise. In the meantime, it is reported that Taylor is to retire on full pension.