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Maurice McCabe was subjected to "whistleblower reprisal" - Irish style

The treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe shows us that the Ireland of 2016 remains a cold house for whistleblowers and truth-telling, writes security analyst Tom Clonan.

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

THE O’HIGGINS Report and its aftermath tells us a great deal about the ethical and intellectual formation of Ireland’s powerful establishment.

The treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe shows us that the Ireland of 2016 remains a cold house for whistleblowers and truth-telling.

Let’s be clear. This short report – at just 362 pages – contains a series of precisely worded conclusions that constitute a damning indictment of the management and political stewardship of an Garda Siochána. The report also vindicates two particular individuals.

Painful experiences

The findings clearly justify Senior Counsel Sean Geurin’s recommendation for a commission of investigation to examine serious flaws in policing within the Cavan Monaghan Division.

Given our recent and painful experiences in Ireland of powerful and dysfunctional institutions, the Taoiseach would be well-advised to conduct a similar independent audit of all garda divisions – not unlike the independent investigations of misconduct and abuse conducted among all dioceses of the Catholic Church throughout Ireland.

The report also unambiguously vindicates garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe.

O’Higgins states that McCabe acted without malice and with the utmost integrity – with courage and at great personal cost – to highlight serious and fatal flaws in our policing service.

In his introduction – possibly for reluctant or slow learners within our political and media elites – O’Higgins takes the trouble to explain the significance of whistleblowing in Irish society.

Under the heading, ‘Observations on Whistleblowers’, O’Higgins explains the importance of the Garda Síochána Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice Regulations 2007.

He explains that the Morris Tribunal of 2006 had strongly recommended that ‘it should be possible for any serving member of An Garda Síochána to speak in confidence – and without fear of adverse consequences – with a designated officer in garda headquarters should they have concerns about misconduct’.

Protected from reprisal

O’Higgins places particular emphasis on the key principle that whistleblowers must be protected from reprisal or punitive responses from power brokers within the senior management and political oversight of private and public sector organisations and institutions.

He explains the manner in which section 19(2) of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 extends such protection to members of an Garda Siochana.

To be absolutely clear here, O’Higgins states :

The purpose of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 is to ensure that those making complaints about “relevant wrongdoings” should be able to do so without fear of adverse repercussions. The gardaí are afforded protection under that Act. This is clearly in the interest of the general public, and indeed of the gardaí themselves.

It is particularly shocking that in the context of these introductory paragraphs that we have learned of a systematic and concerted effort by senior members of an Garda Siochana to impugn the reputation and character of Maurice McCabe by way of smearing his integrity and credibility.

In short, as a ‘reward’ for highlighting serious and fatal flaws within our policing service, Maurice McCabe was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of character assassination.

Whistleblower reprisal

This is ‘whistleblower reprisal’ – Irish style. Transparency International Ireland have highlighted the phenomenon of whistleblower reprisal within Ireland. What is unique about Ireland is that whistleblower reprisal and retribution is experienced by almost 100% of those who reveal unethical or criminal wrongdoing in the Irish public sphere.

In my own case – as an army whistleblower who revealed shocking levels of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual violence against female soldiers – I was subjected to a sustained campaign of character assassination by a number of senior officers within Defence Forces Headquarters.

In parallel with this campaign, I was isolated by former colleagues and subjected to years of abusive phone calls and texts along with silent phone calls and toxic online abuse.

This is despite the fact that my findings with regard to sexual violence, bullying and discrimination were fully vindicated by an independent government review of my research.

A nightmare scenario

The nightmare scenario I found myself in as an army whistleblower was salvaged by one simple act. The then-Minister for Defence, Michael Smith – at my behest – initiated an external root-and-branch review of the Defence Forces which led to a transformation of its equality and dignity environment.

This simple act of moral courage – the very definition of political leadership – led to significant and measurable positive outcomes for thousands of Irish soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

Ireland has a better armed forces as a result of it, which in turn continues to make a positive contribution to society at home and abroad – from the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean to peace-enforcement operations on the Golan Heights in Syria.

So. It is not rocket science. What Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Fitzgerald need to do is to conduct an external root-and-branch review of an Garda Siochána with regard to the governance, management and personnel issues raised in the O’Higgins Report. This is especially so given the evolving crisis of confidence that is emerging in Ireland with regard to the administration of justice within the Republic.

After all, the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation is just one of 11 separate reports into an Garda Siochána conducted since 2013. In any parliamentary democracy, this level of scrutiny into the administration of justice would be a grave cause for concern. It is therefore imperative that the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice begin a program of radical reform and investment so that we have a 21st century police service consistent with international standards of conduct and oversight.

The report reveals much about Ireland

In other words, the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice need to show leadership and have the moral courage to give our police service the remuneration, equipment, training and independent oversight structures that are the norm among other EU police forces.

In the meantime, we need to reflect as a society on the ethical and moral lessons of the O’Higgins Report and its aftermath. Its handling by some sections of our political and media elites reveal much about official Ireland and the deep state.

There should be zero tolerance in Ireland for whistleblower reprisal. If we had valued our whistleblowers during the Celtic Tiger era – in banking, financial services and regulatory bodies – Ireland might not have had to endure the awful suffering associated with austerity.

If we had valued whistleblowers in the Catholic Church and elsewhere – who knows how much human suffering might have been avoided. In summary, anybody, whether they be a politician, public servant – uniformed or otherwise – or journalist for that matter who collaborates with or engages in character assassination or whistleblower reprisal should hang their heads in shame.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.   

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About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

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