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Leinster House rumours, f*****g headbangers and 'his word against mine': Another explosive day at the Tribunal

Mr Justice Charleton has the unenviable task of finding the answers to the many questions posed at the Tribunal on another explosive day.

Kilkenny TD John McGuinness was the main protagonist at the latest hearings.
Kilkenny TD John McGuinness was the main protagonist at the latest hearings.
Image: Leah Farrell

PICKING APART THE intricacies involved in some parts of the Disclosures Tribunal so far has been multi-layered, convoluted and tricky.

This is certainly not the case here.

In Dublin Castle today, the sparsely populated public gallery was treated to an old-fashioned “their word against mine” day as a TD took to the witness box and said the man who used to be the most senior garda in the country told him about an officer that “fiddles with kids”.

Prone to the occasional interjection usually, Mr Justice Charleton said very little as Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness outlined his version of events surrounding what former commissioner Martin Callinan told him about Maurice McCabe.

As counsel for the Tribunal pointed out, Callinan’s version of events “cannot be reconciled” with that of McGuinness, and the now-retired garda will get his chance to refute the claims against him before the Tribunal in due course.

The “fiddles with kids” and “fucking headbangers” comments will appropriately be across all the headlines, but what McGuinness gave today was a narrative of a concerted campaign to discredit the garda whistleblower at a time when he was highlighting what would become the penalty points scandal.

Rumour mill

McGuinness told the Tribunal that he was appointed the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after the 2011 general election, and was soon in contact with Maurice McCabe, who wanted to highlight perceived misconduct and abuses within An Garda Síochána.

“As the years went by and this issue came to the fore, it was necessary to meet with him and understand the evidence he had gathered,” the Kilkenny TD told the Tribunal, saying he met McCabe in person in 2013.

But as these matters began to gather pace, so too did rumours about the man bringing it to light in the corridors of Leinster House.

McGuinness was explicit in that these rumours referred to McCabe as a “sexual abuser” and a “paedophile”.

“Was it as stark as that?” counsel for the Tribunal asked him. “Yes, it was,” McGuinness replied.

He said that didn’t know where the rumours were coming from but “if you wanted to stop in the corridors of Leinster House, you could listen to them”.

And why were these rumours about McCabe going around? McGuinness said he had a fair idea:

Alongside that effort being made by McCabe and others [to highlight concerns], there was a further effort being made to spread gossip and rumour in relation to the character of McCabe, to insist he was not a credible individual to be listened to.

But, based on his meetings with McCabe and asking him directly about them, McGuinness said he ignored the rumours that were going around.

He said there was “considerable pressure” to try to ensure what McCabe was doing was “stopped”.

This is how McGuinness described his support for McCabe, despite the whispers, the rumours and the outright statements he claims Callinan made: “I admired the man for what he did. I had made up my mind clearly about Sergeant McCabe.

I believe he was aware of the rumours. I think he was extremely upset and disappointed. He was setting out to do the right thing and these rumours were set out by forces to ensure his character would be damaged.
He was determined to try to do the right thing. I thought highly of him and I still do.

‘Disgusting’

The term “disgusting” would become synonymous with a certain perception of how the gardaí viewed whistleblowers.

This utterance by Martin Callinan at the Public Accounts Committee on 23 January 2014 would hit all the headlines.

According to McGuinness describing the actions of whistleblowers as disgusting said a lot about the “frustration and anger there at that meeting”.

It was put to the TD that the former commissioner wasn’t referring to any whistleblowers personally and wasn’t making a “personal derogatory comment” about Sergeant McCabe but rather “expressing very strongly his feeling about how” they brought data into the public domain.

McGuinness, as he was on a number of occasions, gave a strong answer when pressed on this.

He said: “What [Callinan] is saying is that to bring the information in the way that they did was ‘disgusting’. Commissioner Callinan said there were processes and procedures to deal with all these things.

The reason the PAC pursued this was because it was obvious these processes and procedures spoken about by Callinan had failed miserably. They had nowhere else to turn but to the Oireachtas for redress.

Did he say it? Or didn’t he?

The first “did he say it?” moment at the Tribunal today came after McGuinness outlined what he heard Callinan say after the PAC hearings on 23 January.

As is customary, he went to speak to the witnesses after the hearing ended. McGuinness claims that when he went to Callinan, the commissioner immediately launched into a story involving one of the garda whistleblowers, John Wilson.

After that rather bizarre story involving a horse on O’Connell Street, McGuinness said that Callinan told him:

And the other fella fiddles with kids. They’re the kind of fucking headbangers I’m dealing with.

Much was made today of who else may have heard this alleged comment, and who Callinan was addressing his comments to at the time.

Late in the day, counsel for Superintendent David Taylor – former head of the garda press office – said it was his account that he heard Callinan use the term “kiddie fiddler” during this very exchange.

Again, Callinan has a very different account of this meeting. He says that he asked McGuinness if John Wilson would be appearing at the PAC, to which he says McGuinness replied: “You must be joking, sure he’s a fucking header.”

Again, no one can agree on exactly what was actually said here, presenting the chairman with some tough choices.

Two completely different accounts

In terms of the car park meeting on 24 January 2014, involving two people, there are two entirely different accounts for what happened.

Both McGuinness and Callinan agree it took place, but that’s where their paths wildly diverge.

But why meet at a hotel at all?

Coming the day after the PAC hearing where Callinan had made the “disgusting” comment, McGuinness said he felt that “for someone of that position, the meeting must be of a serious nature”.

He also said “when you get a call from the garda commissioner, you’re not inclined to say no”, which drew a collective, hearty chuckle from the public gallery.

The Fianna Fáil man said he had been expecting to go inside Bewley’s Hotel on the Naas road in west Dublin but, when he got there, Callinan got into his car and sat in the passenger seat.

McGuinness said that Callinan immediately starting telling him that McCabe had sexually abused family members, he was not to be trusted and that a grave error had been made in allowing his evidence to come before the PAC.

The TD also said Callinan intimated to him that there was a “file” being prepared, implying that McCabe would soon be facing criminal prosecution for these allegations against him.

Having disregarded the rumours in the past, getting these details laid out for him in such a manner by the most senior garda in the country was enough to give him pause for thought about the whole affair of bringing McCabe’s evidence to light.

McGuinness said: “To be quite honest, I was troubled. Lots of questions ran through my mind about how it all had come to this, and what would happen from here.

Would the PAC be brought into disrepute because of these charges? There was a lot of worry, concern, and trouble over what he said to me.
And, as he recounted the issues of sexual abuse and the existence of a file, I could only assume that a prosecution at some time was pending and I was wrong. That deeply worried me.

As we’ve outlined, McGuinness made a note of what he says Callinan told him at that meeting. He told the Tribunal today that he stopped his car half way home after the meeting and jotted down phrases such as “McCabe”, “Sexual Abuse!”, “individual + family” and “don’t trust him”.

On why he made the note, he told the Tribunal: “I’m not in the habit of making notes. I wrote the notes out of fear I’d forget something.”

Having considered it at great length, McGuinness said that he decided to press ahead with hearing McCabe’s evidence at the PAC and continuing to pursue the lines of inquiry about the penalty points scandal.

“My concerns as chairman was that we were being fair to all those concerned,” he said later at the Tribunal. “Fair to Maurice McCabe. Fair to Commissioner Callinan. And fair to the taxpayer.”

For his part, Callinan entirely rejects this version of events. He claims that McGuinness asked him why McCabe was making the allegations he was making, and that he never made any suggestion that McCabe had abused anyone.

Mr Justice Charleton has the unenviable task of deciding what the truth is regarding these matters.

And, with the evidence of David Taylor to come on an alleged wider campaign to discredit Maurice McCabe, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Sean Murray

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