Q&A: The Charleton Tribunal explained

Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

Here, Michael Clifford explains what the Charleton Tribunal is all about.

What was this Charleton Tribunal about?

The tribunal was set up in February 2017 to investigate allegations that Sergeant Maurice McCabe had been smeared by various individuals or agencies.

Sgt McCabe was not a popular man in some quarters as he had blown the whistle of malpractice in An Garda Siochana.

Maurice McCabe back in 2017.

Is this about senior guards fixing penalty points for family and friends?

Partly. McCabe had complained about widespread abuse by senior gardai of the penalty points system in road policing.

Despite early denials from senior management, the sergeant was fully vindicated when agencies outside An Garda Siochana examined his allegations.

At a Public Accounts Committee meeting in January 2014 about the allegations, then Commissioner Martin Callinan described the actions of McCabe and former garda John Wilson as “disgusting”.

That was a turning point in the whole whistleblowers' saga.

McCabe also complained about malpractice in criminal investigations in Co Cavan. A commission of Inquiry in 2015, chaired by Judge Kevin O’Higgins largely vindicated his claims here again.

So he put noses out of joint?

Definitely. A big policing and political row flared in 2013 and burned on and off for four years.

Along the way, two ministers for justice left office, as did two garda commissioners and the secretary general of the Department of Justice.

McCabe’s actions have been described in official reports and in parliament as doing the State a service.

The plain people of Ireland think he’s a great guy, but there are some reservations in the centres of power which were disrupted.

Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Former Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan.

And the smears on his character?

There are three specific areas that the tribunal examined.

A former head of the garda press office Supt David Taylor made a protected disclosure claiming he was part of an organised smear campaign against McCabe in 2013-14.

Shockingly, it was discovered in early 2017 that a totally false allegation of child rape had been generated against McCabe in the child and family agency Tusla, and passed on to the gardai.

And during the O’Higgins commission, McCabe claims there was an attempt to portray him as bearing a grudge against the force. He believed that a recording he had of a meeting dating from 2008 was all that saved him from being cast in the darkest light.

David Taylor.

Weren’t tribunals supposed to be a thing of the past?

So we thought. But after the false child rape allegations surfaced, McCabe and his wife demanded a public inquiry.

They said that they wouldn’t trust a behind-closed-doors inquiry because of their experience in O’Higgins.

The Government had little choice but to acquiesce. At the time the country was shocked over what had been done to McCabe and trust in the system was low. Anything less than a public inquiry would have attracted serious heat.

Costly business though?

It sure is. Everybody had to be lawyered up.

The senior gardai, including two former commissioners, had three senior counsel and few juniors.

There were up to 30 lawyers at the hearings in Dublin Castle at various points. However, unlike tribunals from yesteryear, this one was managed by Judge Peter Charleton with a sharp and pacey focus. It sat for 97 days between February 2017 and July 2018.

Most Read in Ireland