Michael Clifford: A series of unfortunate events on the part of Tusla

If history is just one damn thing after another, then perhaps the alleged smearing of Sergeant Maurice McCabe was just one damn error after another, writes Michael Clifford.

Yesterday, the Disclosures Tribunal heard submissions on the Tusla module. This investigated how a completely erroneous allegation of child rape was ascribed to Sgt McCabe in 2013.

The allegation persisted and was revived within the child and family agency in April 2014. This was at a time when Sgt McCabe’s plight as a Garda whistleblower was in the full glare of the public and political spotlights.

A number of agencies submitted that it was all down to a series of errors. Everybody, including Sgt McCabe, accepts there was a genuine initial error. Thereafter though, the turbulent sergeant veers away from the positions taken by both Tusla and his employer, An Garda Síochána.

The series of errors in Tusla saw the erroneous allegation plucked from a cabinet of files and a referral prepared, as would be the case for somebody against whom such an allegation would be made. This involved notifying the gardaí and opening files on Sgt McCabe’s children, as if they might be in danger.

Sergeant Maurice McCabe

Tusla accepts the errors, according to yesterday’s submission, even if the errors added up to a shambles, and it was all coincidental to Sgt McCabe’s public profile at the time and his complaints of malpractice in the force.

Counsel representing senior figures in An Garda Síochána had a similar viewpoint, although they say the errors were entirely from Tusla. 

“We say this was a series of most unfortunate events,” said Michael O’Higgins, for the senior gardaí.“But these were not garda errors and they [senior gardaí] took reasonable steps to correct it.”

Nobody in either Tusla or An Garda Síochána told Sgt McCabe about how his name had been thrashed in the child and family agency, and the erroneous allegation found its way to Garda HQ.

Mr O’Higgins said this was the responsibility of Tusla, despite the gardaí being Sgt McCabe’s employer and senior management being aware of it.

Sgt McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell, does not ascribe to the chaos theory of one damn error after another. He accepts the initial error, but believes that the opening of the file in April 2014 in order to make a referral is highly suspicious.

He asked Mr Justice Peter Charleton to consider the veracity or otherwise of three Tusla employees.

He said: “While there is massive evidence of a gross systems failure on the part of Tusla and while much of what happened paints a chaotic standard of professional behaviour, I suggest that the tribunal should

reject some of the evidence as untrue.”

Maurice McCabe and Michael McDowell at an earlier tribunal sitting

Mr McDowell maintains the allegation against Sgt McCabe was not selected for referral on a random basis, although he doesn’t ascribe a particular reason as to why the sergeant might have been targeted on this basis.

Mr McDowell’s submission was also critical of how the gardaí handled the matter once it came into their domain. There were no efforts to inform Sgt McCabe of what was being done to him. Neither was there an

attempt to find out what had happened.

The lawyer pointed to a conference held in Mullingar on July 14, 2014, at a time when the gardaí knew that the allegation against Sgt McCabe had been in error, yet the minutes of the meeting referred to him as a “suspect” and there was mention as to whether he could be a danger to children.

What was notably absent from the meeting was any reference to a member of the force who had been wrongly accused of a most grievous crime.

“None of them seems to have said anything sympathetic about Sgt McCabe,” said Mr McDowell.

“None said this man is subject of a wrongful rape allegation. Nobody thought about the plight of the innocent man.”

How exactly Judge Charleton views the catalogue of errors or whether he considers that errors alone explains everything remains to be seen.

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