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Senior politicians tell tribunal they were aware of rumours about whistleblower

Monday, 16th April, 2018 7:16pm

Senior politicians tell tribunal they were aware of rumours about whistleblower

Whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

There was no attempt by former garda commissioner Martin Callinan to smear whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, the former secretary general of the Department of Justice told the Charleton tribunal, writes Gerard Cunningham.
The tribunal is looking at allegations that senior gardaí were smearing the whistleblower to politicians, journalists and others.
The tribunal has heard previously that the DPP directed no prosecution after an historic abuse allegation was made by 'Miss D' against Sgt McCabe in 2006, saying that the garda investigation found no evidence that a crime was committed.
The former secretary general Brian Purcell said that, when he asked Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013 if there was anything "in the background" about Sgt McCabe, he received a "manner of fact" briefing on the 'Miss D' case, and was told that the DPP found there was no case to answer.
Mr Purcell said that he could not recall if he received the briefing in person or over the phone.
"The way he presented it was on a factual basis," Mr Purcell said.
Mr Purcell said there was no attempt by the commissioner to smear Sgt McCabe's character.
"The only thought I had in my own mind was 'Jesus, I would hate to find myself in a position where that would happen to me'," Mr Purcell said.
The witness said his concern with Sgt McCabe was the penalty points issue and how was it being dealt with. He said there were concerns about confidential information being put in the public domain, and "a presumption that anyone who had points cancelled had done something wrong".
Mr Purcell could not recall if he heard the "disgusting" remark made by Mr Callinan before a January 2014 Public Accounts Committee Hearing (PAC) in relation to whistleblowers at the time but he became aware of it shortly after.
Mr Purcell said that a text message reading 'Well done, exceptional performance under fire', which he sent after Mr Callinan gave evidence to the PAC, was a gesture of "solidarity".
Mr Purcell said he had been through PAC hearings himself and knew it could be a difficult experience.
"It's really just an expression of solidarity, look you had a tough time in there, well done, no more no less," Mr Purcell said.
He said that he understood the reason why Mr Callinan sought a meeting with PAC chairman John McGuinness after the hearing was because he was concerned that, if Sgt McCabe gave evidence in public, confidential information would be made public.
Afterwards, he said, Mr Callinan "was satisfied he'd made the case", even if he was not convinced that he had persuaded the PAC chairman.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who was on the Public Accounts Committee in 2014, told the tribunal that there were rumours going around Leinster House that the garda whistleblowers were "odd".
Mr Murphy said it was "quite obvious that what people were trying to do was to discredit their evidence because it was uncomfortable evidence".
Mr Murphy said he was not aware that Mr McGuinness had a carpark meeting with former commissioner Callinan about Sgt McCabe until Mr McGuinness spoke about it in the Dáil in 2016.
The housing minister said that Leo Varadkar was "frustrated" that Sgt McCabe's claims were not being taken seriously.
John Kennedy, a former garda who worked as a driver for Labour minister Pat Rabbitte, denied that he had told Mr Rabbitte that Sgt McCabe "couldn't be trusted with children".
Mr Kennedy served as a Garda from 1972 to 2006, working in the Special Detective Unit, on protective duties with Peter Barry, and in the National Immigration Bureau.
After his retirement, Mr Kennedy joined the Labour party in 2007, and began working as a driver for Mr Rabbitte in 2011.
Mr Kennedy said he got on "very well" with Mr Rabbitte", although he "could be grumpy at times".
Mr Kennedy said he did not know Sgt McCabe, but he had sympathy for him. "It's a very lonely perch when a guard is in a spot of bother," he said.
Mr Kennedy said he did not keep in contact with fellow gardaí after he retired and did not know anything about Sgt McCabe, "Certainly nothing of the nature of this thing I allegedly said about Sgt McCabe, which has upset my family very greatly by the way," he said.
Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton told the witness that whatever he would conclude about the conflict of evidence between Mr Rabbitte and Mr Kennedy, he did not believe Mr Kennedy was "a malicious gossip".
"If this happened it was on the basis of a confidential conversation," the chairman said.
"I appreciate that, your honour," Mr Kennedy said.
Earlier in the day, on Monday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the tribunal that he met with Sgt McCabe in February 2014, after speaking about him with John McGuinness TD. 
Mr Martin said he was given a dossier on garda malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan District by Sgt McCabe, which he raised in Dáil Éireann. Afterwards he gave the report to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Mr Martin said "there was a lot of rumour about the place" in Leinster House about Sgt McCabe and his press officer was asked by reporters if Sgt McCabe was reliable.
Mr Martin said that the issue that stood out for him in Sgt McCabe's dossier was the case of Sylvia Roche Kelly. Ms Kelly was murdered in 2007 by a man who was released on bail. Mr Martin said that this was this issue, which made him decide to raise Sgt McCabe's complaints in the Dáil.
"He impressed me as a witness. He had substantive material. He made it clear to me he wasn't leaking to the media or looking for notoriety," Mr Martin said.
Later in February 2014, Mr Martin had a meeting with TD John McGuinness. "Towards the end of the meeting, he then said to me that he had met then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in a carpark and he had said to him that Maurice McCabe was not to be trusted and he was a child abuser," the Fianna Fáil leader said.
Mr Martin said he was taken aback, even though he had previously heard the rumours, as this time the information was coming from the garda commissioner.
"To accuse anyone of child abuse is probably the worst accusation you can make against any individual," Mr Martin said.
Mr Martin said that he was reluctant to repeat the information to anyone else because of the damage such an allegation could do.
He said that if the Commissioner had said it, then there would be an investigation, and a prosecution would follow if necessary. In the meantime, the dossier on penalty points contained concrete information.
Following publication of an article by Paul Williams, Mr Martin said he was subsequently asked if he was prepared to meet with Miss D, and agreed to do so.
Miss D told Mr Martin she had been abused, and "her main concern with me was she felt it had not been investigated properly" and should be added to the terms of reference for any inquiry.
Mr Martin petitioned the Taoiseach on Miss D's behalf, and also spoke to Sgt McCabe, who told him the complaint had been investigated fully by the DPP.
Mr Martin said no garda ever directly spoke to him about Sgt McCabe.
Conor Dignam SC, representing Martin Callinan, put it to Mr Martin that he was mistaken about what Mr McGuinness had told him in February 2014, and had not learned about the car park meeting between Commissioner Callinan and Mr McGuinness until much later.
Mr Martin said there was no mistake. "Deputy McGuinness did say this to me in my office. That's just a fact. I'm not in any shape or form mistaken in relation to that meeting," Mr Martin said.
Mr Martin said all his experience said he should "proceed cautiously", as he was not prepared to repeat such a damaging rumour.
"I steered clear of hearsay, rumour, talk. I just kept to concrete, tangible material," Mr Martin said.
The tribunal resumes tomorrow (Tuesday) when it will hear evidence from Supt Frank Walsh, private secretary to former garda commissioners Callinan and Nóirín O'Sullivan.

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