If you thought Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s whistle-blowing was all about getting penalty points looked after, think again. This is about murders, beatings, sex assaults and other investigations, all botched or worse by the Gardai. It’s about a man of principle, victimised by the organisation he works for simply because he told the truth.
The Guerin report systematically forges its way through a series of complaints raised by McCabe, and finds every one of them credible enough to warrant a formal inquiry. These are the same complaints that former Commissioner Martin Callinan found, as he put it, frankly disgusting.
Chapter by chapter, Guerin sketches out a series of pictures ranging from horror to farce.
- A young woman dead because her killer was freed on bail when Gardai failed to provide a court with vital information.
- An Assistant Commissioner wrestling with McCabe in a hotel lounge for possession of a box of documents.
- A Garda approaching the victim of an assault and negotiating payment of compensation instead of prosecuting the culprits.
- Gardai unable to obtain video of an attack in a pub even though it had been shown on CCTV to a large audience.
- Gardai losing a priest’s computer after seizing it for technical examination on suspicion of child pornography. Following complaints by McCabe against a senior officer, he himself was later subjected to disciplinary procedures, even though he had nothing to do with the case.
- Professionals in a Monaghan town reluctant to cooperate with any investigation for fear of retaliation.
- Gardai advising victims of crime to withdraw complaints.
- Gardaí falsifying entries in the operational database to cover up malpractice.
Assault, false imprisonment, death threats, intimidation. It goes on and on.
Finally, we have the unedifying spectacle of the Garda Commissioner being invited by the Minister to investigate complaints against himself and giving himself a clean bill of health. It was Alan Shatter’s casual acceptance of Callinan’s hubris-filled reply, combined with his own failure to understand his legal obligations that finally made it impossible for him to stay in the job.
Few people emerge well from this review, apart from Maurice McCabe himself. Guerin makes it clear that McCabe is a policeman of the highest integrity who genuinely believes in his role on behalf of the community.
An Garda Síochána comes across as an antiquated, hidebound relic, with attitudes rooted in 1920s Ireland, and rigid managerial structures that mask an almost complete absence of real discipline. In Guerin’s words, discipline is not merely the absence of insubordination and in this 336-page document, he shows us a force without direction, without vision but also without fear of consequences. We see unprofessional local Gardai misusing their positions to intimidate anyone who might criticise them. We see a hierarchy utterly blind to any suggestion of wrongdoing, in the habit of setting up sham investigations and completely resistant to what it sees as interference.
What we see in this report is a deeply dysfunctional police force, barely tolerant of the government and the public it serves. We see an organisation with a rigidly top-down structure, impervious to change, suspicious of everyone and aggressively resistant to criticism. We see bumbling incompetence. We see a club of people, many of whom regard membership as a way to do favours for their friends and to derive personal gain for themselves.
Despite the outstanding example of Maurice McCabe, what we do not see is widespread professionalism, but as we speak, it has just been announced that Maurice McCabe’s full access to the Garda IT system has been restored, thus confirming that all the attempts to dismiss him as a troublemaker were only so much guff and hot air.
The old nonsense won’t wash any more. It’s not a problem with Monaghan or Cavan or Donegal. It’s a problem with the nature and the structure of the organisation, and it needs a proportionate response. It’s about time we had a complete reform of our national police service and it’s about time all the old dinosaurs were sent out to graze the primeval forests they came from.
It won’t be done without a struggle though. I’d hate to be a source close to Martin Callinan’s dog right now.
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