Friday, May 27, 2016
Former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan met the then Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness in secret in 2014 to say that Sergeant Maurice McCabe was “not to be trusted”.
Mr Callinan and the Fianna Fáil TD had a secret 20-minute meeting ahead of the appearance of Sgt McCabe before the PAC at the height of the Garda crisis.
It has emerged that, at the meeting, which took place in the car park of Bewley’s Hotel on the Naas Road in Dublin on January 24, 2014, the commissioner sought directly to convince the PAC not to hear evidence from Sgt McCabe.
This was six days before Sgt McCabe finally did give testimony in private to the committee.
“Every effort was made by those within the Garda Síochána at senior level to discredit Garda Maurice McCabe,” Mr McGuinness told the Dáil during the debate on the O’Higgins commission report.
“The garda commissioner confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.”
Mr McGuinness also revealed that he was told of “vile stories” about Sgt McCabe at the time which he said were “promoted” by senior Garda officers.
It has been confirmed to the Irish Examiner that it was Mr Callinan who sought the meeting with Mr McGuinness.
Calls to the former commissioner for a response yesterday from the Irish Examiner went unanswered.
The meeting took place in the days before Sgt McCabe appeared before the committee to outline his knowledge of extensive abuse of the penalty points system.
The previous May, an internal Garda investigation had found there was only minor abuse, but this result has since been discredited.
Sgt McCabe approached Mr McGuinness with his concerns over the loss of public money in the abuse of the penalty points system in November 2013.
Mr McGuinness determined that the PAC should hear from Sgt McCabe in a move that caused some unease in government and Garda circles. Mr Callinan, then the Garda Commissioner, voiced opposition to the hearing.
Six days after the secret meeting, on January 30, Sgt McCabe appeared before the committee behind closed doors for more than three hours. He was described by several committee members as a highly “credible witness”.
A week later, Mr Callinan appeared before the committee on the penalty points issue for nearly seven hours, during which he described the actions of Sgt McCabe and former Garda John Wilson as “disgusting”.
Speaking at Thursday’s debate about attitudes towards Sgt McCabe at the time, Mr McGuiness said: “The vile stories that circulated about Garda McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda, were absolutely appalling. Because they attempted to discredit him, he had to bring forward various pieces of strong evidence to protect his integrity.”
Mr McGuinness went on to speak highly about Sgt McCabe’s bona fides and credibility in his dealings with him.
“In the workings of the Committee of Public Accounts over the past five years, one of the most impressive witnesses who came before us and the only witness who came before us in private session was Sgt Maurice McCabe,” said Mr McGuinness. “Everything he said was supported by documentary evidence.”
Sgt McCabe’s appearance before the PAC marked a turning point in the Garda crisis which ultimately led to the departure of Mr Callinan, the then justice minister Alan Shatter and his top official, Brian Purcell, later in 2014.
Last year’s Fennelly Commission report concluded that the visit by Mr Purcell to the home of Mr Callinan at the behest of Taoiseach Enda Kenny was the immediate catalyst for his retirement. However, the report also stated Mr Callinan decided to retire and that he could have decided otherwise.
Mr Kenny said it was correct that he sent Mr Purcell to Mr Callinan’s home to make it clear the grave concerns that the Taoiseach had.
Michael Clifford and Daniel O' Connell
We remember Jimmy Stewart as the amiable Hollywood icon who appeared in such classic movies as “Harvey” and “Vertigo,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Anatomy of a Murder.”
Few Americans today know that Stewart was a bona fide hero who served in World War II. Even fewer know that Stewart would also, in time, endure the grief of all families who lose a child to war.
Like a lot of Americans in 1940, Stewart was certain that the country would soon be going to war with Nazi Germany.
Stewart was then an on-the-rise Hollywood star. But at heart he was still a kid from small-town Pennsylvania who had worked in his family’s hardware store.
Stewart’s father fought in World War I, and other relations had done battle for the Republic all the way back to the Revolution.
To Stewart, patriotism was a shared ideal. Even the wealthy and well-connected had the sacred duty to stand up and fight for their country.
So Stewart prepared for war. He logged more and more hours piloting his airplane. He hired a trainer to help him bulk up.
In March 1941 — nine months before Pearl Harbor — Stewart, who had just won an Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story,” was sworn into the Army ... as a private.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, the Air Force wanted Stewart to sell war bonds, contending that he was too old (mid-30s) and too famous to risk flying combat missions.
But he pushed and wrangled and charmed until — finally — he was sent to England and put in command of a squadron of B-24 Liberator bombers.
The B-24 was a fast but ungainly beast poorly suited to formation flying, and had the dubious reputation for breaking up during hard landings. Joe Kennedy Jr. died when his B-24 exploded during a test flight. Louis “Unbroken” Zamperini’s B-24 malfunctioned and crashed in the Pacific.
Stewart piloted these death traps over Germany and Occupied Europe — braving flak bursts and fighter attacks — more than 20 times.
And even though aircrews were suffering the highest casualty rates of all American combat units, Stewart found a loophole that allowed him to fly more missions than Air Force regulations allowed.
By the time the war in Europe was over, James Stewart had been promoted from private to colonel.
His leadership and courage under fire earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. His devotion to his men earned their lifelong admiration. And no pilot wore his cap any better.
But — as it did to so many young American men and women — the war changed Stewart.
He had no illusions about the barbaric reality of “strategic bombing.” Many times he had experienced the terrors unique to aerial combat. He had premonitions of his own death. And he carried the emotional burden of those who survived when so many others did not.
Stewart drifted back to Los Angeles, but he was restless and uncertain. Somehow in his absence the Golden Age of Hollywood had slipped away. He wasn’t sure he could even be an actor anymore.
One day, director Frank Capra called up Stewart and pitched him a movie idea. Before the war, they had collaborated on two big hits — “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”
Legend has it that Capra’s pitch did not go well. The idea was convoluted — the whole thing seemed to be told in flashback. There were fantasy elements. And its tone was all over the place - serious one moment, funny the next.
With Stewart’s interest slipping, Capra tried a different approach. He too had served — producing the “Why We Fight” documentary series to promote the war effort. Capra was well aware of the darkness brooding within returning veterans. Perhaps he sensed it in Stewart.
So Capra said, “You’d be playing a guy who’s very depressed, and you decide to kill yourself on Christmas Eve.”
Stewart needed no more persuading. He was in.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” was the first movie Stewart made after the war and, to the end of his life, it was his favorite.
Stewart’s career blossomed. He went on to make dozens and dozens of movies and television shows, including brilliant collaborations with directors Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann.
But for all his many and varied roles, Stewart declined to make big studio war pictures. (He appeared in only one — an obscure, genre-defying anti-war film called “The Mountain Road”.)
His contracts always forbade the studios from using his wartime service to publicize his movies.
When interviewed for the seminal 1970s documentary series “The World at War,” he was identified as “Squadron Commander James Stewart” and spoke only of the bombing campaign.
Even with the demands and distractions of movie stardom, Stewart remained committed to his patriotic service. He stayed on in the Reserve, and even tagged along on a combat mission or two over Vietnam.
He retired from the Air Force in 1968 with the rank of general. But history was not done with James Stewart.
After graduating from college in the mid-1960s, Stewart’s adopted son Ronald McLean joined the Marines. His parents were thrilled — as demonstrated in a photograph of Stewart, beaming with pride, pinning Lieutenant’s bars to Ronald’s uniform.
In June, 1969, Lieutenant McLean took charge of a recon unit in Central Vietnam.
It was a year after the Tet Offensive had exploded across American TV screens; a year before President Nixon’s Cambodian “incursion” expanded the conflict.
Change was all around in the summer of 1969. It was the season of “Easy Rider,” the Miracle Mets, and the Apollo moon landing. But in Vietnam, the war continued to grind on as it had for five years already.
Lt. McLean’s recon squad was inserted by helicopter into the jungles of the DMZ. Right away the patrol hit trouble when it found itself surrounded by a much larger force of North Vietnamese soldiers.
The patrol’s request for extraction was denied — hardly an uncommon response by American commanders in Vietnam who so often seemed determined to refight the Alamo.
In his war memoir “Dispatches,” Michael Herr described the prevailing mindset: “The belief that one Marine was better than 10 (Vietnamese) saw Marine squads fed in against known NVA platoons, platoons against companies, and on and on, until whole battalions found themselves pinned down and cut off. That belief was undying, but the grunt was not.”
For two days Lt. McLean’s six-man squad — a couple of them still teenagers — fought point-blank against the enemy.
While the firefight raged around him, Lt. McLean broke cover to help one of his wounded men. He was shot in the chest by a sniper and died beside the jungle trail.
Eventually an American relief force broke through to the recon patrol and the NVA troops fled. Lt. McLean was the only American soldier killed. It had been his first patrol; his squad-mates barely knew him.
The death of Ronald McLean devastated his family. But if James Stewart was angered or embittered by the loss of his son, he never showed it publicly.
With dignity almost inconceivable with today’s emotionally-vampiric media, Stewart bore his grief as he seemed to do everything — with humility, grace, and quiet strength.
James Stewart died in 1997. His memorial was attended by thousands of admirers, and he was mourned by millions more who remembered him as — for a time, anyway — the quintessential American hero.
He was buried beside Gloria, his beloved wife of 45 years. Close by is the modest grave marker of their cherished son, Ronald — a stoic reminder that fame and fortune are no guarantee against sorrow and tragedy.
Ronald Walsh McLean was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his courage during the fated patrol. His name is etched on Panel 23 West, Row 113, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
By Michael Colliery
Thursday, May 26, 2016
The Garda Ombudsman is to investigate claims two senior officers misrepresented a 2008 meeting with whistle-blower Maurice McCabe to the O’Higgins commission by alleging he was motivated by malice.
Sgt Maurice McCabe: Garda commissioner has denied instructing her legal team to impugn his integrity.
The decision was made by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday, as the fallout from the inquiry continued with Taoiseach Enda Kenny forced to correct the record of the Dáil over the resignation of ex-justice minister Alan Shatter.
Ahead of her private meeting with the Policing Authority today to address the O’Higgins report, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan denied ordering her legal team to impugn the integrity of Mr McCabe or make the case he was “acting maliciously”.
Transcripts from the inquiry published by the Irish Examiner show at the outset of the inquiry, senior counsel for Commissioner O’Sullivan claimed evidence would be produced to show Sgt McCabe had told two officers he was only making the complaints out of malice.
The inquiry was told the two officers — named in the Dáil last night by Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace as Superintendent Noel Cunningham and Sgt Yvonne Martin — had taken notes of that meeting.
However, Sgt McCabe produced a tape recording of the same meeting showing the claims not to be true.
In a statement yesterday, the commissioner said the leaked documents outlining the instructions to her lawyers were “selective” and threatened public confidence in her force being damaged in “a very unfair way”.
The senior garda said she was legally restrained from dealing fully with the accusations because evidence to the O’Higgins Commission was confidential, as are instructions between lawyers and their clients.
However, while defending her own actions in the case, she said the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) should now open an investigation into the 2008 allegations.
In a lengthy Dáil debate on the O’ Higgins report yesterday, the justice minister ratified the request, creating another investigation into the Garda whistleblower scandal.
However, despite the move the Government continued to be heavily criticised over the controversy, with the opposition rounding on Fine Gael for the ongoing failure to fully clarify the issue.
In a strongly worded response to the commissioner’s statement, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said the country’s most senior garda still has questions to answer, noting while Commissioner O’Sullivan labelled the references to her legal team’s tactics as “selective” leaks “she doesn’t say they were not true”.
While welcoming the GSOC investigation, Ms Daly said thecommissioner has been aware of the issue for more than a year and failed to act and questioned its timing. She told the Dáil a number of gardaí have been pictured holding images of Maurice McCabe as “a rat”, claiming the “vilification” of whistleblowers continues.
AAA-PBP TD Mick Barry said under Dáil privilege if Commissioner O’Sullivan is found to have been “culpable in the framing” of Sgt McCabe “she should resign, in fact, she should be sacked”.
Daniel O Donnell
Monday, May 23, 2016
When we think of the famine we generally think of the lack of food rather than the abundance of it. The latter was the reality of what the 'famine' really was and all too often this is lost in translation for various political purposes and keeping up appearances in the new political climate that we now find ourselves in, happily I hope. This historical reality, whatever way any history scholar or appeasing scribe may want to describe it, is Ireland's Holocaust of mass starvation and must never be forgotten for it was their suffering without dignity on the altar of death that gave breath to those that survived. And all of this misery, suffering and death was was made entirely legal by a foreign government. There was no chance for Irishmen and women to get off their knees for such was their lot that to survive was life and death itself that came before the luxury of just being able to live. A million of these victims of violence by starvation lie mainly in unmarked graves across the land, unnamed and unmourned. For a few moments may we remember them as we be beat the drums of independence for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising for it was the outrage of this mass starvation of the Irish people that seeded it in the first place. Only through the eyes of even just one English writer that journeyed through the west of Ireland in 1849 can we perhaps even begin to get a snapshot of what that reality was and his telling of that journey cannot hide his discomfort at what he is witnessing. Here is his story complete with his illustrations of what he saw and felt as printed in his piece: ‘Condition of Ireland, Illustrations of the New Poor Law’ (Published in January 1850)
“I crossed the Bay to Galway, and proceeded towards Clifden by a route devoid of interest, exhibiting, in a less degree than in Clare, the usual signs of devastation in progress. Mr. Martin’s property extends almost the whole way from Ouchterade [Oughterard] to Clifden, and is a mixture of mountain, moor, and fertile land, capable of indefinite improvement, with great facility of water carriage, but most sadly neglected. It is a bad sign for the next harvest, and for the people of this country, that in my whole journey from Galway I did not see more than from thirty to forty persons, including all ages and sexes; and, with the exception of ten men working under a road contractor, few or none of them were at work.
At Carihaken, the levellers have been at work, and tumbled down eighteen houses. In one of them dwelt John Killian, who stood by me while I made the accompanying Sketch of the remains of his dwelling. He told me that he and his father’s before him had owned this now ruined cabin for ages, and that he had paid £4 a year for four acres of ground. He owed no rent: before it was due, the landlord’s drivers cut down his crops, carried them off, gave him no account of the proceeds, and then tumbled his house. The hut made against the end wall of a former habitation was not likely to remain, as a decree had gone forth entirely to clear the place. The old man also told me that his son having cut down, on the spot that was once his own garden, a few sticks to make him a shelter, was taken up, prosecuted, and sentenced to two months’ confinement, for destroying trees and making waste of the property.
I must supply you with another Sketch of a similar subject on the road between Maam and Clifden, in Joyce’s County, once famous for the Patagonian stature of the inhabitants, who are now starved down to ordinary dimensions. High up on the mountain, but on the road-side, stands the scalpeen of Keillines. It is near General Thompson’s property. Conceive five human beings living in such a hole: the father was out, at work; the mother was getting fuel on the hills, and the children left in the hut could only say they were hungry. Their appearance confirmed their words – want was deeply engraved in their faces, and their lank bodies were almost unprotected by clothing.
At Kylemore my companion bought a turbot, weighing from 18lb. to 20lb., for 1s. 6d., and might have had it for 1s. had he driven a hard bargain. The fact indicates that the sea would supply plenty of food if man would take the trouble to procure it. A similar proof of the equal capacity of the soil is found at a short distance from Kylemore. Two enterprising Englishmen, of the name of Eastwood, planted themselves there about four years ago, and all around them the bleak and barren moor has been changed into well laid-out fields – some green with herbage, and others brown and dingy with the stubble of the carried corn. There is a comfortable lodge, in the Elizabethan style, and around it suitable farm buildings. The whole indicates skill, industry, and good taste; it indicates, too, great courage in overcoming a moral as well as a physical opposition. The Messrs. Eastwood have, in some measure, conquered the habits of the people, which was a more difficult task than subduing the neglected and deserted heath. They will be pioneers to others, who will select, let us hope, this fertile and promising wilderness for the scene of their exertions, instead of wrestling against the arid sands of Australasia, or engaging in competition for the plains of the Mississippi with emigrants from all the countries of Europe. Their example has in fact been followed; and between their abode and Clifden two or three beginnings have been made – so that the country adjoining that town exhibits several signs of improvement.
This neighbourhood, before the potato rot came, was not so entirely occupied by the cultivation of the root as some other parts of the country. In the Union of Kilrush, for example, in 1848, there were 11,569 acres under potatoes, out of an area of 178,935 acres; in the Union of Clifden there were only 3714 acres, out of an area of 189,504 acres, under potatoes. The fact is of some importance, in explaining the comparative ease with which the poor in Clifden have been disposed of. Clifden itself is an exotic in an unfavourable climate. It was reared by the patronage of the late Viscount; and since that ceased, it began to decline: the Poor-law has almost finished it. Before we reached, we learned that the guardians of the union were out of money, and obliged to pay for what they wanted by cheques, which they are to receive in payment of the rates. Extreme poverty exists in the neighbourhood – the soil around is poor – great numbers of houses have been levelled – but the poor, unlike those of Kilrush, have in great part disappeared with the houses. They have not found refuge in the workhouse – they have not been carried away as emigrants; they have either wandered away or have died, or both may have contributed to cause their disappearance. I have a list of 111 houses levelled within a few months in the immediate neighbourhood of Clifden, which is very considerable, considering that the whole population of the Union was only 33,465 in 1841. Assuming five inmates to a house, the sixtieth part of the population has been dispossessed. Here, too, there is little more than one person to every six acres; or, scanty as is the population of Clare, the population of the Union of Clifden is not, in relation to acres, half so abundant. I have taken a Sketch of the workhouse, which I send as a memorial of this pet place of the late Viscount Clifden.
[Correction printed in the article of Jan. 19, 1850]
P.S. – I must correct a mistake committed in my last communication. There are two Clifdens in Ireland, and the one in Galway was the property of the D’Arcy family, and not of the Clifden family, as I stated. I am also informed that the Messrs. Eastwood are not English, but Irish-English.
From Clifden to Ouchterade [Oughterard], twenty-one miles, is a dreary drive over a moor, unrelieved except by a glimpse of Mr. Martin’s house at Ballynahinch, and of the residence of Dean Mahon. Destitute as this tract is of inhabitants, about Ouchterade some thirty houses have been recently demolished. A gentleman who witnessed the scene told me nothing could exceed the heartlessness of the levellers, if it were not the patient submission of the sufferers. They wept, indeed; and the children screamed with agony at seeing their homes destroyed and their parents in tears; but the latter allowed themselves unresistingly to be deprived of what is to most people the dearest thing on earth next to their lives – their only home.
I returned to Galway, where the Poor-law officials are not communicative, nor is there in the Union any extraordinary fact to communicate. The old town is a jumble of thatched mud cabins, stone-built houses, and the remains of a former splendour, old sculptures and carvings, putting to shame the homely and even rude houses of a modern date. The people are remarkable for the vivid colours of their dresses, amongst which red predominates, and some lingering traces of a foreign origin may yet be discovered in their countenances. Here, as in most other sea-ports and fishing towns, particularly of Ireland, hulking men lounging about were numerous, and appeared to have every other capacity to work but the will. You are not annoyed, however, by mendicants in Galway, as in other Irish towns, though there is a universal complaint of distress finished by the exclamation, “That last five-shilling rate is a death-blow to all”.
From Galway I proceeded to Ennis, and in the neighbourhood inspected the village of Clear [Clare, later Clarecastle], which had been destroyed within a few weeks, and some part of it within a few days. The Sketch of Pat Macnamara’s Cabin shows the condition of the village. In Ennis I went through the lanes and alleys, and amongst the most distressed part of the population. In one small room, not 20 feet square, I found congregated fifteen people, young and old, exhibiting nearly all the phases of want and squalor. From the smoke which filled the place, it was a Rembrandt scene, and it was with difficulty I could make out the forms of the wretched groups, or of the squalid and dying child on the floor. In the union workhouse of Ennis there is order, decency, and regularity. With it is conjoined a farm of eighteen acres, which is well cultivated by the labour of the paupers. It is wisely placed under the superintendence of one of Lord Clarendon’s practical agricultural instructors; and probably he is as well employed in displaying his skill at the farm as in any other mode of teaching his art.
At Ennis, I consider my tour terminated; and I shall only send you further some general observations on the Poor-law, and some suggestions as to what might reasonably be done for Ireland.”
Sunday, May 22, 2016
These days there would be precious few judges who would instinctively protect An Garda Síochána from scrutiny. Whether or not the same open, robust approach would inform big decisions that would have major repercussions for the executive is a matter of conjecture.
IN November 1985 the monthly current affairs magazine Magill ran a stark headline: “We Say The Judge Got It Wrong”. The story it referenced was what was known as the Kerry Babies Tribunal, which examined how four members of the Hayes family from Abbeydorney could have, while in garda custody, admitted to a murder they couldn’t have committed.
The tribunal chaired by Judge Kevin Lynch exonerated, to a large extent, the gardaí of any wrongdoing. His main criticisms were of a “slipshod” investigation, following the discovery of a baby’s body near Cahirciveen.
Magill’s reporter, the peerless Gene Kerrigan, sat through 82 days of evidence and found the judge’s relatively tame conclusions at variance with the evidence. Kerrigan’s report forensically went through the evidence and showed where the judge’s conclusions were inexplicable.
Ireland was a different country in the 1980s. Authority wasn’t really challenged, which rendered the Magill position quite explosive. What would have been really explosive would have been a tribunal report that drew some far-reaching conclusions about the culture within the gardaí, as evidenced by the whole affair. But that would have required a mindset that was obviously beyond the late Judge Lynch.
Roll it on nine years and the publication of the Beef Tribunal report into export credit insurance. The tribunal, chaired by Judge Liam Hamilton, sat for more than three years. During its hearings, a government fell when two of the witnesses, Albert Reynolds and Dessie O’Malley, clashed in their evidence.
The tribunal report was relatively tame, more or less exonerating Reynolds, who had been a central figure in the affair when he had been Minister for Industry. Most observers suggested that Judge Hamilton had simply avoided apportioning commensurate blame to culpable individuals.
When the report was published in 1994, Reynolds was Taoiseach, and Hamilton president of the High Court. Any serious criticism of Reynolds might have seen the president of the High Court responsible for the ejection from office of the Taoiseach. A few months after Hamilton delivered his report he was promoted to chief justice by the Government.
Fast forward to last year. The Fennelly report, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Niall Fennelly was examining the departure from office in April 2014 of the garda commissioner Martin Callinan. The main issue was whether he was ‘pushed’ by the Taoiseach, a scenario that would have made Kenny’s continuance in office untenable.
The matter centred on Mr Kenny dispatching the secretary general of the Department of Justice to Mr Callinan’s house to inform him of Kenny’s “concern” over various Garda controversies.
Fennelly reported: “The commission accepts the Taoiseach’s assurances that he did not, by sending Mr Purcell to visit the commissioner, intend to put pressure on the commissioner to retire.” But he also stated that the way things were done, such an outcome “was likely to be interpreted as doing just that” by Mr Callinan. In other words, he had reason to believe he was getting the heave-ho, but the judge believed Mr Kenny when he said it wasn’t meant like that.
Some might regard Judge Fennelly’s interpretation of events as Jesuitical. After all, a retired Supreme Court judge, schooled through a long career in the separation of powers, would be highly sensitive about responsibility for the probable resignation of a serving Taoiseach.
Now leap to the recent publication of the O’Higgins report into alleged garda malpractice. Eight days ago this newspaper published a story detailing events behind the closed doors of the commission. At the outset of the commission’s hearings, counsel for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan indicated that his instructions were to attack the integrity and motivation of Sergeant Maurice McCabe, who blew the whistle on malpractice in the force.
The evidence against McCabe’s character, the commission was told, would be presented by two gardaí to whom McCabe allegedly revealed that he was motivated in bringing his claims by a grudge against a senior officer.
Then, hey presto, McCabe produces a recording of the meeting in question.
There was no mention of a grudge.
It would have involved at least two garda officers misleading a statutory inquiry, including the possible commission of perjury. And it would have involved the character assassination of another officer, whom the commissioner had lauded publicly. All of this would have been done on the instructions of the garda commissioner, albeit presumably on the basis that she was misinformed about the event in question. If that whole affair — effectively an aborted attempt to bury McCabe — made it into the final report, it may well have precipitated a political crisis.
Judge O’Higgins would not be a popular figure around Government Buildings.
For the second time in two years, a government may have been forced to move against a garda commissioner. What would such an appalling vista say? That the wrong candidate was given the job of reforming the force? That the force was unreformable? That the Taoiseach’s judgement was up for grabs?
Judge O’Higgins may have a valid reason for not including in his report an incident that appears to be a shocking reflection of the culture in the force. But such a reason is far from obvious.
There is a certain pattern to be discerned in some judicial inquiries. The standard of work done is usually high and fairness towards individuals tends to be observed without fear or favour.
But when it comes to pointing the finger in a manner that may have major political repercussions, robust, unequivocal conclusions do not appear to feature.
This may well be down to an instinctive reluctance to stray across the separation of powers. Judges guard their independence from government fiercely, and such an instinct may well inform an overly cautious approach when they find themselves sitting in judgement of the executive with the prospect of major political repercussions. Of course there may also be a judicial reluctance to point the finger at anybody who would suffer the most grievous consequences. An inquiry, after all, is not a court of law.
The country has moved on in 30 years. Would a Kerry Babies-type tribunal come up with a result similar to the original inquiry today? Perhaps not.
These days there would be precious few judges who would instinctively protect An Garda Síochána from scrutiny. Whether or not the same open, robust approach would inform big decisions that would have major repercussions for the executive is a matter of conjecture.
We need a better understanding of a sector that turns over more than €7bn annually, about half of that coming from government
In April 1902, the Association of Charities, with an address in Molesworth Street, Dublin, published a handbook of philanthropic organisations and charities in or applicable to Ireland. The handbook listed about 1,600 instances of civic-minded activism – sometimes highly ingenious – in a time before the welfare state was even thought of.
Today the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe will launch a new version of this handbook in the form of an online database of 18,600 civil society organisations: benefacts.ie.
Over the past few decades market forces and digital technology have fuelled the creation of many sophisticated intelligence tools to support analysis, research and decision-making across every other industry. However, it may surprise many to learn there has been until now no reliable inclusive online source of information on the non-profit sector in Ireland.
The 42,000 directors of not-for-profit companies rely in the main on anecdotal evidence about their sector when making decisions, and poorly-informed decisions are never the best ones.
The Benefacts database of Irish non-profits changes that. Drawing in the main on online company filings and other regulatory sources, Benefacts aggregates all of the public data on every non-profit in its scope, and creates a powerful digital repository of governance and financial data. Soon this will also include information about the work these organisations do as narrative information becomes part of the standard for public disclosure.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because of the purposes of these organisations, which are to enhance the quality of life in Ireland. Have a look at www.benefacts.ie to see how today’s civic activists express their determination to promote social justice, alleviate suffering, enhance our environment and do a myriad of other things that they believe are important enough to warrant the effort.
An often-repeated view that there are too many charities in Ireland can now become the subject of informed public debate. Which is as it should be because when it comes to the work of non-profits we are all decision-makers. We support them with our time, with our money and with our taxes.
We deserve to have a better understanding of a sector that employs at least 108,000, and that turns over more than €7 billion annually, about half of that coming from government in service fees and grants.
It is easy not to notice the State has chosen to commit just under 10 per cent of all current public expenditure to nonprofit organisations that deliver public services because this expenditure is distributed across many departments and agencies – about 250, according to the Benefacts database.
We deserve greater transparency in the interaction of this sector with the State.
The pressure for greater public accountability in the use of public funds has resulted in compliance reporting arrangements of Byzantine complexity, which represent a heavy administrative burden.
The media’s preoccupation with senior executive pay might usefully be refocused on the cost of doing business with the government.
A responsible social housing provider in Ireland today, for example, has to provide a separate annual return to the Registrar of Companies, the Regulator of Charities, the Social Housing Agency and the Revenue Commissioners, not to speak of the voluntary returns to the governance code and the code of best practice on fundraising standards.
And that’s before they start providing compliance reports to their multiple funders.
There are encouraging signs of change. By investing in this infrastructure, government, together with its philanthropic partners, has shown not just an appetite for administrative reform but the determination to put tools in place to deliver it.
“Tell us once” is a principle of modern public governance that is surely overdue in the relationship between service-providing non-profits and their government funders.
More importantly, however, the arguments for transparent, freely accessible information about this sector go far beyond the case for efficiency.
The character of civil society – meaning everything that isn’t the government or the market – is manifest in its institutions: the way it provides for things people want to do, but don’t have to do. They are among our most precious resources.
A hundred years ago, associational life and voluntarism in Ireland was rich in diversity and ingenuity. What does this look like in Ireland today?
Now we know.
Patricia Quinn is the founder and managing director of Benefacts, a not-for-profit company established in 2014 to transform the transparency and accessibility of Ireland’s civil society organisations