Shatter steps back to ‘quicksand’ of issues raised by Sgt McCabe

Charleton Tribunal: Summary of week ending 18 May 2018

First published in the Sunday Independent

Alan Shatter had barely started his evidence, explaining the various contacts he had as justice minister with whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, when Charleton Tribunal barrister Kathleen Leader asked him about the Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins. Shatter took the opportunity to note that while it found he dealt with various issues correctly, senior counsel Sean Guerin SC earlier came to the “exact opposite” conclusions, and “without of course consulting me or talking to me.”

At various times, as Guerin’s name came up, Shatter again reflected on how the barrister’s report, which he challenged in the courts (the case is currently being appealed), brought his political career to a halt. At one point, he began a sentence “Throughout my political life-” before stopping to correct himself, “my former political life, which Mr. Guerin brought to an end.”

Shatter said in dealing with issues McCabe raised “you were sort of sinking in quicksand.” During a phone call with garda commissioner Martin Callinan over penalty points, trying to get a handle on the “erratic nature” of McCabe’s engagement, he asked “Is there something in the background here?”

“His reaction was to say the only issue that occurred to him was there was some years ago an allegation was made of a sexual nature in relation to Sgt McCabe. It had been fully investigated and the DPP had directed there was no basis for a prosecution.”

Shatter didn’t press any further or ask for details. Callinan speculated McCabe might still be upset about the investigation, which the DPP decided did not amount to an assault of any kind. But the commissioner said nothing about McCabe seeking revenge. Shatter concluded the experience might have influenced how McCabe was dealing with the garda penalty points inquiry, as he was wary of being investigated again.

“Contrary to the way Martin Callinan has been portrayed, he didn’t make a big deal of it,” he added. The phone call, around June 2013, was an “extraordinarily brief conversation”, and Shatter never discussed it with anyone. He was “genuinely puzzled” at reports of rumours about Sgt McCabe circulating in Leinster House,as he never heard them.

“Maybe it was taking place behind my back, I don’t know, but certainly I was not aware of it, and it was also never raised by any journalists”, he explained.

Shatter believed he was still obliged to respect McCabe’s request for anonymity, even if his identity was known or suspected by senior gardaí. But he said assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney, appointed to look into penalty point allegations, might have been wiser to contact the garda commissioner and formally ask if the Minister to see if the anonymous complainant would come forward. Shatter even had his department write a letter he hoped would “nudge” the sergeant to come forward, but concluded it was “equally valid for assistant commissioner O’Mahoney to take a different perspective.”

in the end, O’Mahoney never contacted McCabe, because he did not know who the confidential recipient was, event if he suspected. And McCabe never gave any information, because he was never contacted. Shatter found it “something of a puzzle” McCabe expected O’Mahoney to contact him, when he was still requesting anonymity. He thought O’Mahoney’s report was”thorough and comprehensive in dealing with all of the process issues”, though “it didn’t necessarily address the substance of some of the rather exotic decisions.”

Shatter said he was “not in a good place” after losing his post as justice minister in May 2014, and was “traumatised by the circumstances.” He was contacted a few weeks later by Paul Williams, who wanted him to meet Miss D, who made the 2006 allegation against Sgt McCabe. The young woman was “very stressed”, and didn’t believe her allegation was fully investigated. Shatter later raised her case in the Dáil.

Supt Dave Taylor was not in a good place either, the tribunal heard earlier. First he was transferred out of his job as press officer, then investigated over leaks to journalists. Lawyer Micheál P O’Higgins said the superintendent was “conducting a class of private press office from Dublin Castle.”

In 2016, Taylor met Maurice McCabe. He told the sergeant he was directed by Callinan to brief negatively, telling journalists there was a sexual assault investigation. Quizzed by lawyers, Taylor was unable to give details of specific instances where he briefed any of the eleven journalists he named. None have confirmed what Taylor says, some saying they were never briefed, others claiming journalistic privilege. Taylor’s wife Michelle largely echoed her husband’s evidence, that he was to brief journalists there was “a backstory” to McCabe.

Martin Callinan vigorously rejects the allegation he gave any such directions, suggesting Taylor had a grudge against his successor, Nóirín O’Sullivan, and he was collateral damage in a bid to “bring her down”. His evidence continues tomorrow.