Gardaí and lawyers 'discussed decade-old indecent assault allegation against Maurice McCabe days before first O'Higgins hearings'

By Gerard Cunningham

A decade-old indecent assault allegation against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was discussed at a meeting between gardaí and lawyers days before the O'Higgins commission of inquiry began hearings, the Charleton tribunal has heard.

The DPP directed no prosecution on the case in 2006.

The tribunal is looking at whether false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by Commissioner O’Sullivan to discredit Sgt McCabe at the Commission of Investigation chaired by Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins.

Ken Ruane, legal advisor to the Garda Siochana, giving evidence to the Charleton tribunal, said that Sgt McCabe's motivation in highlighting complaints had not been questioned by the garda commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, and an internal report by assistant commissioner Derek Byrne and Chief Supt Terry McGinn accepted that he had acted in good faith.

The tribunal heard evidence of notes taken by Annmarie Ryan, a solicitor from the Chief State Solicitor's office, of a meeting on May 11, 2015 between lawyers and gardaí before the O'Higgins Commission began hearings days later.

In her notes Ms Ryan stated that the alleged assault was raised by chief superintendent Fergus Healy.

Sgt McCabe also allegedly told assistant commissioner Derek Byrne he would "bring this job to its knees" at a meeting with the senior officer in a Monaghan hotel, according to Ms Ryan's notes.

"These are discussions about Sgt McCabe. They are absolutely nothing to do with the O'Higgins Commission," tribunal barrister Pat Marrinan SC said.

Mr Ruane said that the case was "background information in relation to Sgt McCabe." The meeting was also given details of another whistleblower, former garda John Wilson.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the factual matters that are to be investigated by the O'Higgins Commission," Mr Marrinan said.

"I believe what Chief Supt Healy was doing was giving a background to interpersonal difficulties that had arisen between Sgt McCabe and other officers," Mr Ruane said.

He said that the background information gave an "indication as to what led to a breakdown in communications between Sgt McCabe and certain members of the force."

Mr Ruane said that the barristers at the meeting were not given any instructions to raise the issues at the O'Higgins Commission of Inquiry.

He said that something must have changed between the meeting on 11 May, and the Commission hearing on Friday 15 May where the issue was raised.

Mr Ruane received a telephone call on the night of Saturday 16 May during which Ms Ryan briefed him on events at the Commission, which had sought clarification that the garda commissioner's instructions were to challenge Sgt McCabe's credibility.

Mr Ruane said he was later told by Chief Supt Healy that the garda commissioner had a "private meeting with counsel". Mr Ruane said he understood this to mean a meeting without representatives from the Chief State Solicitor's Office.

Mr Marrinan said that the challenges to Sgt McCabe's credibility were "entirely inconsistent" with the commissioner's public expressions of support.

Mr Ruane said that with hindsight he should have discussed the case with the garda commissioner.

"It would seem that there was a certain thrust to that consultation to the effect that he [Sgt McCabe] was a bitter man," tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said.

Solicitor Annmarie Ryan told the tribunal that in the days before the Commission held its first sitting, barristers for the commissioner met with garda witnesses.

In her statement to the tribunal, Ms Ryan said that "following consultations with all witnesses, Counsel advised that Sgt McCabe should be challenged on his motivation in making numerous complaints of serious corruption against several senior Officers.

“At the request of counsel, Chief Supt Fergus Healy was to discuss this issue with the commissioner. On the morning of 15 May Chief Supt Healy informed counsel he had spoken with the commissioner and the commissioner's instructions were to proceed in accordance with Counsels' advices."

Ms Ryan said that counsel's advice was given orally, and she did not record it. She said she expected a consultation with the garda commissioner about the issue, but that did not happen.

Ms Ryan said it was never the intention to bring the investigation into alleged abuse before the commission of inquiry. What mattered was Sgt Mc Cabe's interactions with garda management after the investigation.

Ms Ryan said that the commissioner accepted the findings of the Byrne-McGinn internal garda inquiry, and "always accepted that there was problems primarily with younger probationary members and supervision" which were highlighted by Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal resumes on Wednesday.

Maurice McCabe

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