“It would be a question of the utmost public concern if an undercover officer were effectively permitted to operate without justification, authorisation or oversight in Ireland.”
Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe’s first contact with a TD came about because he saw Clare Daly TD on ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ talking about policing of Corrib Gas protests, writes William Hederman
The repercussions for Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson will be familiar to others who have publicly embarrassed An Garda Síochána. They were clearly acting in the public interest, but their revelations brought the force into disrepute, and the two men suffered as a result. Revenge was exacted – not only by colleagues, but also by way of public denunciation by the Garda Commissioner (“disgusting”), the Minister for Justice (“not co-operating”) and by various other parties loyal to the force.
It’s called “whistleblower reprisal”, something highlighted by security analyst Tom Clonan in recent days. Ireland is regarded as a world leader at it.
The whistleblowers’ experience has chilling parallels with the experience of the two women who in April 2011 made public a recording of Corrib Gas project gardaí (including a sergeant) talking about raping them – the so-called “rape tape”. The women released the recording in the public interest to highlight the culture of policing around Shell’s inland gas refinery project in north Mayo and also the toxic attitude towards women on the part of some male gardaí (people to whom women are expected to report sexual assault).
There was huge public interest in, and outrage at, the recording, but within hours of it being published, revenge was being exacted on the women and those who helped them, and it continued for many months. The attacks came from all directions. Gardaí immediately leaked their details to journalists; the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) undermined them by briefing the News of the World that they were “not co-operating” with its inquiry (a false accusation echoed by Alan Shatter’s comments last October about Sgt McCabe); certain crime correspondents ran bizarre newspaper stories that smeared them; and Alan Shatter denounced them as “exploiting” the incident.
These attempts to smear the women are excellently documented in this May 2011 article on Indymedia.ie:
Business as usual for Gardaí – trying to smear women in ‘rape tape’ controversy
However, the most shocking developments were those involving GSOC, the statutory body tasked with independent oversight of An Garda Síochána. Four months after the event, GSOC published a report about the incident that blatantly misinformed the public and undermined the women who made the recording public. The report cleverly twisted facts in order to cast doubt on the veracity of the recording.
This disturbing story is related in a March 2012 article I wrote for Village Magazine, which is reproduced below (scroll down).
Corrib Gas protests, Clare Daly TD and the Garda whistleblowers
Meanwhile, there is another, more direct connection between the Corrib Gas project and the Garda whistleblowers. Clare Daly TD has revealed that Sgt Maurice McCabe first contacted her because he saw her on the Tonight with Vincent Browne show on TV3 in April 2011 following the breaking of the “rape tape” story. She was on the programme discussing policing of the Corrib project.
Daly revealed this when speaking at an event in Inver (near Rossport) in north Mayo on November 23rd, 2013, entitled “Who Polices the Police?”:
“Our involvement with the pair of whistleblowers in this case actually started as a result of the protests here [against] Corrib. It was the cases of the rape allegations and that being brought to the public eye two years ago with the protestors with Corrib. There was a Vincent Browne programme that dealt with that issue. I was on the panel and I made some points . . . particularly about the fact that things hadn’t changed much since Donegal and the Morris [tribunal] . . . that there was a systemic problem of accountability with An Garda Síochána. The first whistleblower guard happened to be watching the TV that night said, that’s somebody who I think I could get on with, and he contacted me after that and arranged to come up to Dublin . . .
“He said he would stay in contact with us, and he did that . . . and in the summer of 2012, when we were in the news a bit and a lot of the media being incredibly negative about us, the second whistleblowing guard said, ‘God, these people seem to have a bit of backbone, I think we’ll get in touch with them again’. And this time they were ready to go public.”
Clare Daly has confirmed to me that the “first whistleblower” she referred to was Sgt Maurice McCabe and the second was retired garda John Wilson.
You can watch a video of Clare Daly’s talk in Inver at this link (the section quoted above is near the start of the video):
Clare Daly: Who Polices the Police?
Masterclass in spin by Garda Ombudsman
[Village Magazine, March 2012]
The independent Garda watchdog produced a report about the Corrib Garda ‘rape tape’ that misinformed the public and undermined the women who brought the recording to public attention. By William Hederman
It was one of the most extraordinary news stories of 2011. On March 31st, Gardaí in north Mayo arrested two anti-Shell campaigners and seized a video camera. The Garda sergeant and colleagues then inadvertently recorded themselves joking about threatening to rape and deport one of the two women in their custody before handing the camera back. The recording was posted online, where it was listened to by more than 100,000 people within days. It provided a disturbing glimpse into the minds of some of the very people to whom women are expected to report rape. However, the saga took a more worrying twist four months later.
In late July, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which was conducting a ‘public interest’ inquiry into the incident, announced it had sent an “Interim Progress Report” to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter. Shatter published the report and, within hours, widespread media coverage had implanted several key pieces of false information in the public mind.
This three-page report should be compulsory reading for students of PR and political spin. By cleverly juxtaposing several half-truths and omitting most of the crucial information, it created an impression that all was not as it seemed with the ‘rape tape’. It serves Garda interests by undermining the women and creating an impression that these Gardaí might have been victims of Shell to Sea shenanigans.
Back in April, the ‘rape tape’ had provoked public outrage. The official Garda response was contrite: the Garda Commissioner apologised and reassured “victims of sexual crime” that they should continue to report those crimes to Gardaí. Behind the scenes, it was business as usual for Garda ‘sources’. Personal details of the two arrested women were leaked to the press (the women had initially hoped to remain out of the public eye). A reporter turned up at the family home of one of them, Jerrieann Sullivan. She said her parents were “extremely upset” by this.
Meanwhile, Caoimhe Kerins of Dublin Shell to Sea says she received tip-offs from two crime correspondents that Gardaí were spreading a rumour that the women had shouted “rape” during the arrest. Kerins assured them it wasn’t true and the journalists didn’t print it. The rationale of Gardaí seemed to be that this rumour would mitigate the Garda behaviour in the public mind: a disturbing echo of the old notion that a woman is to blame for rape.
This smear finally found its way into print 10 weeks later, when Jim Cusack published the rumour as fact in the Sunday Independent on June 19th. Sullivan complained to the Press Ombudsman and in October he ruled that Cusack’s article was “significantly misleading”.
Some Gardaí and their allies had been seeking revenge. But surely GSOC would act more fairly and impartially? The signs were not promising. On April 17th, the News of the World quoted a “source” at GSOC, claiming Sullivan was refusing to hand over the camera. She says she was “shocked at how a supposedly independent public body could feed journalists with information that undermined a witness in its own investigation”.
In fact, there was a short delay in handing over the camera, because of a dilemma facing Jerrieann Sullivan and lecturers at NUI Maynooth, where she was doing an MA degree. The camera belonged to the university and contained a research interview she had recorded three weeks before the “rape” recording. The interview was subject to confidentiality agreements with the participants: academic guidelines meant the confidentiality of the interview had to be protected.
When GSOC demanded the camera, the university academics explained their predicament to GSOC and repeatedly offered to have the older file deleted in the presence of GSOC. However, they say GSOC ignored all offers and issued threats of criminal prosecution against Sullivan and her lecturers. A spokesman for GSOC told Village he could not comment because, “This is an ongoing investigation of a criminal nature and we are bound to protect the confidentiality of that investigation.”
Jerrieann Sullivan was forced to hire a solicitor. She says that he was, in turn, threatened by GSOC “with a fine or imprisonment for not handing over the camera”. A statement from seven academics – Sullivan’s course directors at NUI Maynooth – describes GSOC’s attitude to Sullivan and the other woman (who has managed to remain anonymous) as “consistently hostile, recalling past treatment of the victims of sexual violence”.
Nine days after the story broke in April, the older file , containing the recording of the research interview, was deleted from the camera in the academics’ presence, and the camera given to GSOC. The possible motives behind GSOC’s approach became clearer when the Interim Report appeared. The deletion of the older file was cleverly exploited to give the false impression that the recording of the rape comments had been “tampered with”.
The Interim Report makes no mention of Sullivan’s and the academics’ explanations, nor of their offers to reach a compromise. It simply reports that files had been deleted from the camera, implying that this was mysterious: “The significance of these deleted files … was not known”. The report is misleading by implying that GSOC first became aware of the file deletion when examining the camera, whereas in fact Sullivan and the academics insist the file deletion had been explained to them in a series of oral and written communications, involving university authorities and solicitors. When this was put to GSOC, the spokesman pointed out that the interim report “doesn’t say that the recording from March 31st was interfered with.”
The report also appears to weigh in behind the insidious Garda rumour that the women said rape first. Jerrieann says she was questioned by GSOC for almost five hours, but her testimony is not referred to in the report. The only person quoted in the report is an unnamed detective, who makes a vague report of having heard someone shout “rape”, though they were “unsure of the exact words used”… as they say their back was turned. Jerrieann says she told GSOC categorically that neither of them used the word “rape” during the arrest. There is no reference to her version of events in the Interim Report.
GSOC’s spin was perfectly pitched: extensive news coverage of the Interim Report led with the (totally false) suggestion that the recording had been “tampered with” – although GSOC had been careful to stop short of directly stating this as fact. The smear rumour about the women saying rape first also featured prominently.
RTÉ reports on July 28th 2011 by Paul Reynolds were so misleading, the BAI ruled in December they were “inaccurate”, “unfair” and “harmful” to Jerrieann. The station was forced to air a correction. Despite the ruling, the misleading reports are still available (as Village goes to press) on the RTÉ website under the headline, “Corrib rape remark recording ‘was tampered with’.”
As Village goes to press, eight months after the Interim Report, GSOC has not issued a final report on this investigation.
It appears that people who embarrass An Garda Síochána are, at least on this occasion, experiencing repercussions: not only via the traditional route – anonymous Gardaí briefing crime correspondents – but also from the very body charged with independent oversight of Gardaí.
– End of Village Magazine article –
• A more in-depth report on GSOC’s handling of this case, prepared by Jerrieann Sullivan, her NUI Maynooth lecturers and Dublin Shell to Sea, is available at this link:
Garda Ombudsman’s bias & spin in ‘rape tape’ investigation revealed
• GSOC and the policing of Corrib Gas protests:
GSOC began hearing complaints in May 2007. Between that date and November 2009,111 complaints were lodged with it in relation to policing of protests against the Corrib Gas project. Of the 111, 78 were deemed admissible, but only seven files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP did not prosecute any of these. Most strikingly, only one file was sent by GSOC to the Garda Commissioner’s office calling for disciplinary action.
http://www.irishtimes.com/news/dpp-sent-seven-files-on-corrib-policing-1.764980 http://www.irishtimes.com/news/watchdog-recommends-disciplining-senior-garda-1.763574 )
• See also an older article on Irish Oil and Gas:
Who is to blame for RTÉ’s false claim that the ‘rape tape’ was ‘tampered with’?