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Did he say it or didn't he? The 'kiddie fiddler' comment that just won't go away

One comment in the Tribunal stood out from the rest after another hectic week at Dublin Castle.

Martin Callinan in January 2014
Martin Callinan in January 2014
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Images

ONE OF THE main takeaways from another hectic week at the Disclosures Tribunal is that there is an increasing number of people who are saying that Martin Callinan had warned them that Maurice McCabe was “not to be trusted”.

It had been well flagged that Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness would give details of the infamous car park meeting with Callinan, where he claims that the then-garda commissioner told him that McCabe sexually abused members of his own family.

But, this week, we heard from Fine Gael TD John Deasy who also told the Tribunal that Callinan warned him about McCabe, as well as a reaffirmation that Superintendent David Taylor will say he heard Callinan make a “kiddie fiddler” comment after a PAC hearing.

We also heard from the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, who said that Callinan had told him McCabe was “not to be trusted” and that there were “sexual offence allegations against him”.

Worthy of note here is that McCabe had been accused of a sexual offence back in 2006, but had been exonerated just a few months later. The DPP said that – even if it was being alleged had actually happened – it wouldn’t have constituted a crime.

Callinan denies saying any of these things, and all claims of wrongdoing put to him.

Box office

Last summer, the Tribunal called witnesses unknown to the general public. Social workers, councillors, rank and file gardaí were called as details of the so-called “copy and paste error” were laid bare.

This week, however, the Tribunal called witnesses straight out of Leinster House. Public representatives populate the witness list, with even more recognisable faces to come next week in the forms of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte.

And, with the testimony of John McGuinness, the public gallery were treated to explosive testimony.

There are two main elements of his story.

The first is that, after a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on 23 January 2014, McGuinness said that Martin Callinan remarked to him “and the other fella fiddles with kids. They’re the kind of fucking headbangers I’m dealing with.”

Callinan appears before committee Callinan flanked by colleagues - including Nóirín O'Sullivan on the way into PAC. Source: Brian Lawless/PA Images

In the context of the conversation about whistleblowers, McGuinness took that to refer to Maurice McCabe. Counsel for former garda press officer David Taylor said that his client – who was in the room along with Nóirín O’Sullivan at the time – will say that he heard Callinan make a comment about a “kiddie fiddler”.

The second vital part to his story took place the very next day, when he received a call from Martin Callinan and agreed to meet up.

This meeting took place in the car park of Bewley’s Hotel in west Dublin. The TD said he assumed that the meeting would take place in the hotel itself but when he got there, the commissioner got into the passenger seat of his car.

Here’s what he says Callinan told him: “He [McCabe] had sexually abused family and an individual, he was not to be trusted, I had made a grave error in relation to PAC because of this. I could find myself in serious trouble.”

McGuinness said that Callinan indicated that there was a “file” on McCabe and that he would be facing criminal charges over such allegations. McCabe has never faced any such criminal charges that McGuinness said were referred to.

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

The TD says that the context that this information was given to him is important.

At the time, in his role as chairman of the PAC, he was dealing with Maurice McCabe who had brought forth evidence of misconduct within the gardaí on the penalty points system.

Garda whistleblower at committee hearing Maurice McCabe arriving to give evidence at PAC on 30 Jan 2014 Source: Brian Lawless/PA Images

He had met with McCabe a number of times, believed what McCabe was telling him, and had helped to set the agenda for PAC to pursue this matter with the gardaí.

McGuinness told the Tribunal that he agonised over his role in all of this because, in the immediate aftermath of being told this by Callinan, he feared that he may have been wrong about McCabe.

He said: “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.

Nevertheless, after this he made what he called a “judgement call” and pressed on with the PAC’s agenda, inviting McCabe to give evidence the following week about the penalty points scandal.

‘Very, very derogatory’

Deasy had previously gone public in an interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme on 14 February 2017 about a negative report he had received about Maurice McCabe.

In it, he said he described this as happening just before a meeting of the PAC: “Before the meeting, I was approached by a very senior guard and he proceeded to make some very derogatory comments about Maurice McCabe, the nature of which, you know, were, you know, Maurice McCabe couldn’t be believed or couldn’t be trusted on anything.

They were very, very derogatory. It was, you know, a serious attack and strongly worded. Maurice McCabe was in the Public Accounts Committee the following Thursday and I thought that he was credible and I made that judgment.

The Fine Gael TD confirmed to the Tribunal this week that the senior garda he was referring to was Martin Callinan.

Although Deasy did not have the strongest recollection of the conversation, he did tell the Tribunal that was said about McCabe stuck out.

He said: “The only part that I do remember is him saying that Maurice McCabe was not to be believed or trusted with anything. And the reason I think I remember that is because it surprised me, I have to say… and it stuck in my mind.”

Callinan’s rebuttal

We’ve not yet heard directly from Martin Callinan. As of yet, there is no date set for when he will give evidence to the Tribunal.

In the statements he has provided, however, his stance on a number of issues has been made clear.

He absolutely denies ever referring to a whistleblower as a “kiddie fiddler” or that he called them “fucking headbangers”.

Here’s what he has to say – through a statement he gave to the Tribunal – about the aftermath of the PAC meeting: “”Mr McGuinness states that at the conclusion of the hearing on the 23 January 2014 he approached me to thank me for attending the Committee. This is correct and it was certainly his normal practice to do so after such meetings. I recall that we exchanged pleasantries and engaged in mundane conversation about it having been a long day and so on.

While I believe the then Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and other colleagues were in the vicinity preparing to leave, I am unsure as to whether they were party to any conversation I had with Mr McGuinness. His assertion that I said ‘this man fiddles with children, this is outrageous’ is simply incorrect and untrue.

Furthermore, Callinan says that McGuinness referred to another garda whistleblower as a “fucking header”.

Similarly, in the car park meeting, Callinan denies most of what McGuinness has said in relation to it.

Here is his account: “Much of the discussion related to the concerns I had in respect of data protection issues and my role as accounting officer.

During the course of the meeting, Deputy McGuinness asked why was Sergeant McCabe raising these issues. He asked if it was because of the file that went to the DPP. It was clear that he was already aware prior to our meeting that Sergeant McCabe had been the subject of a criminal investigation. His query in this regard was not in response to, nor was it prompted by anything I had said.
I did not at any point, as alleged, seek to discredit Sergeant McCabe or undermine the workings of the Public Accounts Committee. The purpose of my meeting with Deputy McGuinness was to ensure that the complaints of Sergeant McCabe were dealt with in an appropriate forum that would not jeopardise the privacy of members of the public.

As counsel for the Tribunal summed up, “it’s a completely different slant on the meeting. The two can’t be reconciled with each other.”

Similarly, he disagrees with Deasy’s account and has given a statement where he said that they discussed whistleblowers in general.

Next steps

It’s important to note what the Tribunal is being asked to do here.

Term of reference L asks the Tribunal to “to investigate whether a meeting took place between former Commissioner Callinan and Deputy John McGuinness on the 24th of January, 2014 in the carpark of Bewley’s Hotel, Newlands Cross, Co. Dublin and to examine and consider the circumstances which led to any such meeting, the purpose of such meeting and matters discussed at such meeting”.

The Tribunal’s remit is also to “investigate whether senior members of An Garda Síochána attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Sergeant McCabe of criminal misconduct”, and the role or knowledge Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan had in matters related to the alleged smear of McCabe.

0193 Disclosures Tribunal_90517189 Mr Justice Charleton is asked to report on what happened in the car park Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

So, all sides say that the meeting took place, but they differ vastly in what happened.

Micheál Martin is due up next week. McGuinness told the Tribunal that he went to his party leader a month after the car park meeting and mentioned to him what Callinan had said. He’ll surely be asked about what action he took after receiving this information.

We’ll also have Pat Rabbitte, who is on record as saying that a retired garda told him some of the rumours about McCabe in 2014.

Minister Eoghan Murphy will be up too. He was a member of PAC at the time, and two members of that committee have already told the Tribunal that Martin Callinan said derogatory things about Maurice McCabe to them.

It is not yet known if more politicians will come forward and claim to have been told by Callinan that McCabe was not to be trusted.

The plot continues to thicken at the Disclosures Tribunal, with an awful lot still unsaid.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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