Ireland: A web of intrigue sparks government crisis

Smear campaign against a prominent police whistleblower. 
Over the last number of weeks, the Irish government has been shaken by a controversy surrounding the outrageous smearing of a prominent Garda (police) whistleblower, Maurice McCabe.  At the core of this smear campaign was the charge that McCabe was guilty of sexual abuse of a young child.

Last week, the minority Fine Gael government, already facing the political and economic challenges of Brexit and the election of Trump , came close to collapse with a motion of no confidence being placed against it. Their position was only salvaged by the decision of the other traditional capitalist party, Fianna Fáil, to abstain on the vote, thus continuing their policy of propping up this weak administration.

It is clear now that the prospects of the Irish government lasting until the end of 2017 have been greatly diminished as an election looks increasingly imminent. The indications are that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will resign after 17 March. He will likely do so after he “greenwashes” the reactionary Trump Presidency by presenting him with a bowl of shamrock in the White House on St. Patrick’s Day. The jockeying for the leadership of his Fine Gael party is now well under way.

Kenny’s position became increasingly untenable in the last few weeks. Anti Austerity Alliance TD (MP) and Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) member, Paul Murphy, correctly pointed out in a debate in the Dáil, Kenny’s “casual relationship” with the truth became more obvious as he managed to blatantly contradict himself in the space of a few days after the scandal developed.

It is simply not credible (as they both have sought to claim) that Kenny or the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, only knew of the smear campaign against Maurice McCabe when it was revealed in a current affairs documentary on Irish national television.

Who is Maurice McCabe?

Maurice McCabe, along with fellow Garda John Wilson, blew the proverbial whistle on a series of wrongdoings and malpractices within Ireland’s police force, including the quashing of ”penalty points” (a series of penalties against those guilty of traffic offences that can ultimately lead to the suspension of drivers) by the Gardaí. 

Both men have been pilloried by senior Gardaí for revealing corrupt practices within the force. In January 2014, the then Gardai Commissioner (head of the Gardai appointed by the Minister of Justice) Martin Callinan referred to their actions as “disgusting” while testifying in front of a parliamentary committee. Callinan was subsequently forced to resign his position in April of that year, as was the then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter.

At the beginning of February, it was revealed that Tusla, the state’s child protection agency, had (unbeknownst to McCabe) opened up a file on McCabe including serious (and fabricated) allegations that he had sexually abused the daughter of a fellow Garda.

The Garda in question was a colleague of his whom he had made complaint about resulting in the latter being disciplined. An investigation by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) had cleared McCabe of any wrong doing when these allegations were initially made in 2006.

Smear campaign

The actions of Tusla were not an isolated incident. It is come to light that senior members of the Gardaí had surreptitiously spread the false allegations about McCabe in a disgusting attempt to discredit him. Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness has revealed that Callinan, who was then Garda commissioner, told him that McCabe was guilty of child abuse prior to the latter privately testifying in front of a Dáil committee on the question of the quashing of penalty points. It is clear that the present Garda Commissioner, and Callinan’s successor, Noirín O’Sullivan and other members of the force were involved in this campaign of vile slander.

It is also evident that prominent crime journalists in some of Ireland’s media outlets were similarly briefed by Gardaí in an attempt to further undermine McCabe. The role of these journalists and their close relationship with the state has also been brought into sharp focus as a result of the McCabe scandal. They have proven themselves to be mere mouthpieces of the Garda hierarchy not independent journalists holding the powers that be to account.

Someone who exemplifies this insidious relationship is Paul Williams. Williams is the crime journalist with the Irish Independent, owned by billionaire tax exile Denis O’Brien. When members of the Rossport community in Co. Mayo in late 2006 were protesting against Shell’s attempt to build on onshore pipeline in their community he wrote the fantastical lie that the IRA had taken “control of Rossport” (Sunday World, 1 October 2006).  Williams cited “an anonymous Garda source” for his evidence. This same approach of regurgitating the lies of the state forces was seen in the McCabe case.

On 12 April 2016, Williams wrote an article in the Irish Independent dealing the case of : “A young woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted as a child by a serving garda claims the incident was covered up through a botched investigation.” The unnamed Garda in the article that Williams’ was referring to was McCabe, he was consciously perpetuating the malicious rumour mongering against the whistle blower.

Fallout from this scandal

The coming to light of this scandal is a significant blow to the Irish state and the Gardaí in particular. It comes against the context of growing demoralisation within the force as a result of its members being hit by the austerity measures over the last number of years that involved cuts to pay and the closing of Garda stations. In November, Gardaí came very close to taking the unprecedented step of going on strike in order to secure pay increases.

The government has been forced to set up an inquiry to investigate the situation surrounding the McCabe controversy. It will be difficult for such an inquiry to simply lay the blame for at the door of a “few rotten apples” within the Gardaí given what has been revealed. The web of intrigue involving different forces and institutions of the state from Tusla, to the Gardai and the Government is illustrative a deep malaise with the corridors of power in Ireland.

The manner in which Maurice McCabe has been shamefully treated has lifted on the inner workings on the state. It is illustrative of what the ruling class is prepared to do in order to undermine and attack those who are seen “to step out of line” and challenge any injustice that exists, or more broadly the present economic and political status quo.

Jobstown trial

These events have blown up weeks before the beginning of the Jobstown trial on 24 April.  Seven defendants, including Socialist Party members Paul Murphy TD and AAA councillors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon, stand trial on charges of false imprisonment (which can carry a life sentence) for participating in a peaceful sit-down protest against then Tánaiste Joan Burton in November 2014.

From the outset of the initial arrests of these defendants in February 2015 the Socialist Party has pointed to the political policing that lay at the heart of this trial. This argument is one that will be accepted more readily given what has been revealed in the last number of weeks. As well politicising broad sections of the working class, this scandal can also have an impact on sections of the middle class who may have had deeper illusions in the nature and role of the Gardaí. It is also noteworthy that the husband of Garda commissioner, Noirín O Sullivan, headed up “Operation Mizen” that involved amongst other things the phone tapping of anti-water charges activists.

There are clear similarities between the vindictive attitude displayed towards McCabe by the upper echelons of the state to that displayed towards the community of Jobstown and the AAA and the Socialist Party.  The role of the media in the Jobstown case and the water charges movement must also come under the spotlight.

As AAA TD and Socialist Party member, Ruth Coppinger, pointed out recently there were leaks to journalists by the Gardaí claiming that were bomb threats to Alan Kelly (the Labour Party Minister in the last government  primarily responsible for implementing water charges), implying they were carried out those active in the water charges movement. The media were also critical in orchestrating a witch hunt against the AAA and Socialist Party in the week after the Jobstown protest.

Build a socialist left

It is important development that working class people are becoming conscious of the rotten role of the Irish state and its undemocratic character. This role is exposed in the context of growing unrest as indicated by the emergence of the water charges movement in late 2014 and more recently by the important industrial battles that are taking place in workplaces such as Tescos and in the public sector.

The ordeal that the Maurice McCabe and his family were put through by the capitalist establishment is all the more reason why we must build a powerful socialist left to oppose it and the parties it represents. This is the task the Socialist Party and the AAA has set itself in the weeks and months ahead.

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