Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Sergeant and The Secretary-General: Can We Trust Our Civil Servants?

Noel Waters - former Secretary General Dept of Justice and Equality


Sergeant Maurice McCabe - Whistle-blower Extraordinaire

Introduction and Summary

Since 2014 the Garda Whistleblower Scandal - mainly centering on Sergeant Maurice McCabe - has resulted in the resignation of two Ministers/former Ministers of Justice (Alan Shatter in May 2014 and Frances Fitzgerald now on 28 November ), two Garda Commissioners (Martin Callinan in March 2014 and Noirin O'Sullivan in September 2017), two Secretary-Generals of the Department of Justice and Equality (Brian Purcell in July 2014 and now Noel Waters on 28 November). The reputation of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has been weakened as has that of the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan. Charlie Flanagan has been forced to apologise in the Irish Parliament to one of his chief critics Alan Kelly TD. and  retains his position largely because nobody wants an election before Christmas. (Also the opposition have already got their pound of flesh following the recent resignations of Frances Fitzgerald and Noel Waters!) 

The effect of the allegations made by Maurice McCabe has been extra-ordinary - not least because the report of the O'Higgins Commission published in May 2016 found that many of his dramatic allegations were false - a point I covered in my recent article "Sergeant Maurice McCabe and 'Corrupt' Garda Officers. For example

(i) The report cleared the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan of an allegation of corruption made by Sgt McCabe regarding the alleged placement of a senior officer on a promotion list. The allegation had no foundation
.
(ii) Complaints of corruption made by Sgt McCabe against Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, Chief Superintendent Colm Rooney and Superintendent Michael Clancy were all found to be hurtful and unfounded. Sergeant McCabe also made allegations against his immediate superior Inspector Noel Cunningham– later promoted to superintendent. These were also dismissed and categorised as “unjustified criticism".

(iii) Claims of corruption in investigations. The report found no evidence of garda criminality or corruption, but found junior gardaĆ­ were allowed investigate cases without sufficient supervision from more senior officers..............

MY QUERY:How is it possible for anyone to mistakenly accuse FIVE superior officers - and some colleagues - of corruption?


The Current Position:

In February 2017 the then Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald set up a "Tribunal of Inquiry into Protected Disclosures", sole member Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Judge of the Supreme Court. This is to investigate whether former Garda Commissioners Callinan or O'Sullivan or other senior Gardai, contacted the media or otherwise tried to discredit whistleblowers who made disclosures of wrongdoing - mainly Sergeant Maurice McCabe but also Garda Keith Harrison. Also to investigate if senior Gardai attempted to use false allegations of sexual abuse to discredit Sergeant McCabe or Garda Harrison.

On 30 November Mr Justice Charleton published an Interim Report which dismissed the allegations made by Garda Keith Harrison in the  strongest terms. An article in TheJournal.ie is headed
 'This is utter nonsense': How Justice Charleton eviscerated Garda Keith Harrison's claims 
with subheading
"Unequivocally, confidently, and often brutally, Charleton has dismissed the claims made by Harrison"

On 2 December the Irish Independent carried a short article headed "The TDs Who Backed Keith Harrison" and named them as Labour TD Alan Kelly, left-wing Independents Clare Daly and Mick Wallace and Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty. All have also supported Sergeant Maurice McCabe. (For example see article in the Irish Times on 20 February 2017 Mick Wallace: To change An Garda, get rid of its hierarchy ).


The Current Problem - Desperate Politicians Targeting Civil Servants

Politicians, members of An Garda Siochana and senior civil servants are being targeted by an out-of-control media bent on whipping up hysteria and bringing down any prominent citizen. However the politicians are not just victims of hysteria. Several of those caught up in the current witch-hunt are left-wing and 'liberal' types who were very happy to use the media against their own perceived enemies. Now they find to their horror that they themselves have become prey for the monster they helped to feed! The reaction of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to blame their civil servants - who are forbidden by law to engage in politics and therefore have great difficulty in defending themselves. 

[The targets of these previous witch-hunts have been either Catholic clergy and religious or 'reactionary' journalists. However the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland today is less than zero and the number of Irish journalists with viewpoints opposed to the 'liberal' consensus is also very small. One response  of 'liberals' is to turn on each other but for politicians, it is also tempting to blame their civil servants!]

Alan Shatter claimed in 2009 that the Catholic Church was implicated in the murder of a 10 year old girl in 1970. He demanded - and got - a high level Garda inquiry lasting a year,  into his false allegation. 

Charlie Flanagan slandered Nora Wall in the Dail (Irish Parliament) also in 2009 - repeating an allegation in respect of which she had received libel damages from the Sunday World in 2002. 

Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald supported the witch-hunt against journalist Kevin Myers a few months ago - and approved of the fact that he had been fired by the Sunday Times. 

Alan Shatter's political career has since  been terminated - and that of the others adversely affected - by the type of media hysteria that they themselves had endorsed when it suited them to do so. Now the politician-survivors want to present the media mob with other targets!


Resignation of Secretary General Noel Waters on 28 November

When the previous Secretary General of Dept of Justice Brian Purcell stepped aside in July 2014, following criticism of his Department in the 'Toland Report', he hinted that he did not agree with the findings of that Report. His reluctant successor Noel Waters went  a lot further when he told Minster Charlie Flanagan of his decision to resign. An article in the Irish Independent by Shane Phelan on 29 November is headed Departing Justice Boss Makes an Unprecedented Attack on Taoiseach

It is indeed unprecedented for a senior civil servant to make an attack on politicians but this is this is what Noel Waters has done in defense of his own staff in the Department of Justice. 

The departing secretary general of the Department of Justice fired a parting shot at TDs and the media as he retired yesterday with immediate effect. Noel Waters defiant email to colleagues notably came within hours of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar making a speech in which he described the department as "dysfunctional". Mr Waters ...claimed that much of the criticism voiced in the Dail and the press had been "unwarranted" and that he expected the department to be vindicated by an external inquiry......His decision came after much criticism of the department's failure to disclose emails to the Charleton Tribunal when it sought information earlier this year.

Mr Varadkar announce he was ordering an external inquiry into why important emails "were not found and therefore not sent on" to the tribunal. This inquiry will report before Christmas. If the emails were deliberately withheld from the tribunal, something the department denies, it would amount to a criminal offence. The emails revealed Ms Fitzgerald had been told of the "aggressive stance" then Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan's legal team was taking against Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

Mr. Varadkar also said the Government was accelerating reforms already in train, and was planning "radical action to restore public confidence in the Department of Justice".

But in his letter to colleagues, Mr Waters claimed the department had been to "a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today. I want to assure you that in so far as is humanly possible, this department has sought at all times to act appropriately, upholding the law and the institutions of the State" he said. "Many of the claims about how the Department has acted that have been made in the media and the Dail are not true, and I am confident that the processes that the Taoiseach has announced will show that to be the case".

While the above headline highlights the role of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the  article on top of the same page  is headed  'I Missed Significance of Email at Centre of Row,' Admits Flanagan and features our current Justice Minister disclaiming personal responsibility and blaming his own officials. I suspect that  is the more likely cause of Noel Waters resignation!

Extracts from the latter article by 'Group Political Editor' Kevin Doyle:
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan admitted that he "missed the significance" of the email at the centre of the controversy that brought the Government to the The under-fire minister told the Dail last night [28 November] that he was "shocked and frankly horrified" that documents in the possession of the Department of Justice had not been handed over to the Charleton tribunal. He poured blame on officials in his department saying it was "a major challenge at every step to obtain complete information in a timely manner, indeed on a few occasions recently, information has been provided to me, to the Taoiseach, and then to this House, which has proven subsequently to be inaccurate. ". .....

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin told the Dail the current row "must be the nail in the coffin of the secrecy and silos in the Department of Justice. Yes there must be a fundamental change in the culture of that Department, but Government must also take responsibility and take legitimate questioning by the Opposition, not as partisan grandstanding all the time.. Over the past three weeks the Government has taken too dismissive an attitude to Opposition members who raised very important and profound questions," he said.

As part of the reforms being planned for Justice, TDs are to be given an opportunity to sit down face to face with the senior officials to ask questions........

MY COMMENT: 
There is a discussion on the politics.ie website regarding the topic  "Charlie Flanagan Next" and at one point I tried to summarise as follows:
The basic issue is fairly straightforward. Sergeant Maurice McCabe claimed that FIVE of his superiors were corrupt - all the way from the Inspector who was his immediate boss right up to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. These claims were found by the O'Higgins Commission to be false and it was inevitable that the Gardai were going to contest them. But at the same time politicians, like the then Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, felt obliged to treat Sergeant McCabe as a paragon of virtue and truth. There was an obvious contradiction there. The way to avoid this in future is for claims by Whiste-blowers to be treated in the same way as any other allegations of wrong-doing. This means they are NOT to be automatically accepted OR rejected from the word go!

The politicians - including Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan - have tried to iron out the contradiction and evade responsibility by accusing their civil servants of failing to supply them with accurate information. One result of their behaviour is that it will be very difficult to find anyone of suitable caliber to replace Noel Waters as Secretary General of the Department of Justice. His predecessor Brian Purcell was obliged to step aside in similar dubious circumstances in 2014. Noel Waters was originally supposed to fill the position on  a temporary basis for a few weeks until a new Secretary General was appointed but  no suitable candidate emerged to accept the poisoned chalice. So who on earth is going to accept it now?


5 comments:

  1. I contributed to a discussion on the website politics.ie entitled "Charlie Flanagan Next". In reply to my query: How is it possible for anyone to mistakenly accuse FIVE superior officers - and some colleagues - of corruption? a poster with the pen-name Talkingshop wrote the following:
    http://www.politics.ie/forum/justice/260715-charlie-flanagan-next-8.html
    "I would say the whole thing is a mix - he [McCabe] developed a personal grievance against certain superior officers, and wanted to get back at them. He also genuinely was a bit of stickler for the rules, and didn't like the way some things were being done, and found some practices sloppy (correctly I would say). So he had dual motives - personal issues first, but he also genuinely thought it was good to bring the instances of poor practice to a higher level. His original complaints were reacted to in the Guards by a high level investigation - the O'Byrne-McGinn investigation, which found 11, I think, of his issues substantiated (I don't know how many issues he raised).

    "But he couldn't stop there, he then started complaining that O'Byrne-McGinn weren't objective - he got a review of their investigation at a higher level - wasn't satisfied with that either. Then he started on confidential recipients, GSOC, Minister for Justice, politicians - and probably at this point he started raising his allegations to "corruption" - to get them treated more seriously -even though it all started about a bullying complaint."

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    1. I just read through the thread on politics.ie and it is interesting. I had tried to get a handle on it when the story blew up in the summer but I don't read the papers much and gave up trying to work out what was happening. I understand Flanagan is behind the really foolish proposals to allow illegal immigrants (asylum seekers) to work and for that alone I would be eager to see him go.

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    2. Also, wasn't Kenny another casualty as he was supposed to have withheld information or misled people about something or other which became the occasion of his retirement as Taoiseach?

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    3. Just to be careful I'll amend 'was supposed to have' to 'I seem to remember it was claimed he had'! I notice that one of two posters there want to believe allegations, the more far-fetched the better.

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    4. Yes former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was probably an indirect victim of this hysteria. An article in the Irish Independent on 29 November headed "Garda Controversies: The Casualties" has photos and mini summaries of SEVEN "casualties" and they include Enda Kenny. The comment on our former Prime Minister reads:
      Mr Kenny's departure as Taoiseach earlier this year was accelerated over his handling of revelations in February that false allegations of child abuse were made against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe."

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