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Sinn Fein seeks answers over John McGuinness meeting with Martin Callinan

Published 30/05/2016

Garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe
Garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe

Sinn Fein has wound up pressure on justice chiefs to explain why a former Garda commissioner secretly met the head of a parliamentary watchdog over whistle-blower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

John McGuinness, former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), was forced to defend releasing information about the January 2014 car park encounter with Ma rtin Callinan two years late.

And the Fianna Fail TD is also facing deep criticism for no t telling the O'Higgins Commission into Sgt McCabe's bad policing allegations.

Sinn Fein said the revelations raise serious questions for current Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald over who knew about the meeting and whether any others have taken place.

The party's justice spokesman Jonathan O'Brien said: "I want to know if the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald intends to clarify what Garda Commissioner O'Sullivan knew about this meeting and whether they think this is an appropriate way to conduct business."

Mr McGuinness last week used Dail privilege to claim Mr Callinan told him that Sgt McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD described stories being peddled by senior members of the force about the respected whistle-blower as "vile" and "appalling" and designed to discredit him.

While Mr O'Brien branded the car park meeting inappropriate, his party's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, a member of the Public Accounts Committee under Mr McGuinness's chairmanship, said there were "well founded" reasons for not disclosing it at the time.

She said the priority had been to get Sgt McCabe to give evidence in the committee about abuse of the penalty points by gardai.

But Ms McDonald called on Mr McGuinness to further reveal what exactly Mr Callinan told him about the whistle-blower.

"What's alarming about all of this is that it went right to the top and it seems to have been quite a single-minded campaign, if we are to take it as truthful that this meeting happened," she told RTE News at One.

Ms McDonald said Mr Callinan should appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the meeting and what was said and what information he offered about Sgt McCabe.

The secret meeting took place in the days before Sgt McCabe gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee and lasted 20-30 minutes.

Mr McGuinness revealed he had heard the allegations about the whistle-blower before and had also received explanations from him about them.

The O'Higgins Commission found the vast majority of Sgt McCabe's claims of negligence and malpractice were proven. It said he was a man of integrity who should be thanked for his whistle-blowing.

Since its report, Commissioner O'Sullivan has been under deepening pressure over allegations that a lawyer for the force claimed during hearings in the inquiry that he was instructed to attack Sgt McCabe's integrity.

The police chief is to be grilled in public by the Police Authority twice next month over the controversy.

Mr O'Brien said it is not unreasonable to ask how many other secret meetings have taken place between Garda commissioners and politicians.

A Garda memo from 2011 following an internal inquiry into Sgt McCabe's allegations by Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne said there was no systemic failures in the management and administration of policing in Bailieborough or any criminal conduct.

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