In April of last year, former Irish Independent journalist, Gemma O’Doherty did something that no journalist appropriately indoctrinated is supposed to do: She dared to question the received orthodoxy. The dogma in question related to prominent figures in Irish society having penalty points and Fixed Charge Notices (FCNs) cancelled. O’Doherty discovered that the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, had penalty points of his own cancelled and dared to approach him about it. Not long afterwards she was brought in front of an internal committee of Independent News & Media (INM), the company which owns the Irish Independent, and reprimanded for her approaching the Commissioner. By August she was made compulsorily redundant. Her former boss, Stephen Rae, also happened to have penalty points cancelled and was the former editor of Garda Review magazine, “the professional voice of the Garda” according to its website. This is just one part of the larger story surrounding the penalty points scandal which has been slowly coming to a boil over the last two years. The only reason that the cancellation of penalty points has been thrust into the public sphere is because of the actions of two whistleblowers; retired Garda John Wilson and Sgt. Maurice McCabe.
There has been much obfuscation on the part of certain elements of the media and amongst the political echelon. The two gardaí have been labelled as “uncooperative” and “disgusting”. Character assassinations of this kind are nothing new and neither are the reasons for their characters being attacked. They, like O’Doherty, also dared to tell the truth and challenge the status quo. Wilson related that he first became aware of the level of the cancellation of penalty points in 2012 when one of his colleagues was transferred to a particular district in order to “clean it up”. There were numerous problems there relating to discipline, lack of proper investigatory procedures, and in general “shoddy practices”. Wilson’s colleague contacted him and informed him that he felt isolated and unsupported by his superiors. It was this colleague of Wilson’s who informed him of “strange patterns in the penalty points system”, with “clusters” of cancellations being found. What this meant was that the same people were having penalty points cancelled on multiple occasions. Wilson decided to do his own investigating and began “mooching around” the PULSE system in order to “garner full knowledge” of what was taking place. He soon discovered that the cancellation of penalty points was widespread, i.e., countrywide. What’s more is that the same type of “clusters” described above were also discovered around the country.
Wilson then decided to make a complaint to the garda Confidental Recipient regarding a small number of the penalty point cancellations. The person in question contacted the offices of various government ministers, including the Taoiseach’s, in which he made it clear that there were serious allegations being made regarding corruption in the gardaí. Concurrent to this, Sgt. McCabe wrote to the Taoiseach in July, August, and September outlining his concerns with reference to the cancellation of penalty points. From here the Taoiseach passed the issue on to Alan Shatter who in turn contacted Garda Commissioner Callinan about the issue. Not long afterwards, Callinan appointed Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney to head-up a report on the subject. This report was apparently preliminarily completed within one month, in November 2012. In the meantime, months had gone by and neither Wilson nor McCabe were contacted. Wilson, fed up waiting, then approached TD Clare Daly with his findings. One month later in December of 2012, Sgt. McCabe was visited by Chief Superintendent Mark Curran who had arrived at McCabe’s station in order to issue him a directive from the Commissioner. Callinan claimed that McCabe was a directed to cooperate with the investigation being carried out by O’Mahoney. The transcript of the conversation, which was surreptitiously recorded by McCabe, says otherwise. McCabe was ordered to “desist searching PULSE” and from handing over information regarding the penalty points issue to a third party. This interdiction also included handing over the relevant information to the garda Confidential Recipient and the Taoiseach. It was mere weeks later when Daly was arrested on suspicion of drink driving, a suspicion which turned out to be completely unfounded. By the time Assistant Commissioner O’Mahoney’s report was finalised in March of 2013 neither Wilson or McCabe had been contacted by the report’s author.