Michael Clifford: Cock-up or conspiracy, it’s time to come clean about Maurice McCabe claims

Without a full explanation from the HSE and gardaí about their handling of the Maurice McCabe claims, public confidence in both agencies will drain away, says Michael Clifford.

Michael Clifford: Cock-up or conspiracy, it’s time to come clean about Maurice McCabe claims

On Saturday, Lorraine and Maurice McCabe turned on their TV to find that the HSE was apologising to them.

The apology was part of a statement issued by the HSE in explanation of the horror visited on the McCabe family over false allegations of child sexual abuse.

This is the manner in which a family who have been subjected to the most appalling treatment at the hands of State agencies were informed of an apology.

Nobody contacted them directly. There was no letter couriered to their home, which might be just as well, considering that an apology couriered on Friday from Tusla went to the wrong address.

Far more worrying though, than the callous approach of a health service to somebody grievously wronged, was the content of the statement.

If the HSE is coming out with its hands up, it is certainly not coming clean on what exactly occurred to thrust the McCabes into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

The statement begins: “In July 2013 there was an allegation of retrospective abuse made against Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe.”

It does not specify whether this allegation was the serious and false accusation of digital penetration.

The woman at the centre of this issue had made an allegation in 2006, through her garda father, that Sgt McCabe had, eight years previously, rubbed up against her and tickled her inappropriately at a birthday party.

That was investigated, dismissed in terms of evidence, and the alleged incident characterised by the DPP as not even being a criminal complaint.

READ MORE: Second apology to Maurice McCabe bungled by HSE

So in 2013, this now adult was making an allegation.

Was it the old allegation rehashed? Or was it the serious, horrendous accusation of the worst form of sexual abuse?

The answer is vital to all that followed, and neither the HSE nor Tusla has stated categorically which it is.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times reported that the woman’s solicitor stated that she did not make the complaint in question, and knew nothing about what unfolded in Tusla.

For confidence to be retained in the health authorities, there needs to be either agreement or dispute with that position.

The HSE statement goes on to say that “there was an administrative error made by a staff member of the HSE’s National Counselling Service”.

The phrase “cut and paste” has been used to explain this error. How so? Prior to the allegation there was no file on Sgt McCabe. What could be cut and pasted?

The file opened on Sgt McCabe had handwritten notes on the specifics of the serious allegation.

How did that originate? What could it have been cut and pasted from?

Specifics are required — and promptly.

Later in the statement, matters turn ever more Kafkaesque when referring to the discovery of what had gone wrong in May 2014.

“The HSE is satisfied that correct procedure was followed once this error was brought to the attention of the National Counselling Service.”

No it wasn’t. Nobody informed Sgt McCabe, even at that late stage, about what had occurred.

Nobody informed the Data Protection Commissioner.

READ MORE: Criminal investigation into whistleblower smear campaign a possibility

The record of the spurious complaint was maintained on file, as it was referenced by the social worker who contacted Sgt McCabe in January 2016 to inform him it was necessary to determine whether he posed a danger to children.

Finally, the statement descended into insult.

“The HSE apologises unreservedly to Mr McCabe and his family for the distress caused on foot of this error.”

Right, by telling the public before contacting the distressed family?

By including the apology in a statement that did little to illuminate what went wrong?

At least the HSE has made an effort to stem any draining of public confidence in its operation.

The same can’t be said for the gardaí.

Basic questions could be answered without reference to any inquiry, in order to reassure the public that from the force’s perspective this was a cock-up rather than a conspiracy.

For instance, the file on Sgt McCabe states that the 2013 allegation was referred to the Garda officer who investigated the original complaint from McCabe’s colleague’s daughter in 2006.

If this is the case, that officer would have known that the serious, vile allegation bore no resemblance to the original complaint.

Why was nothing done?

READ MORE: Taoiseach Enda Kenny refuses to clear up whistleblower questions

Yesterday, it was reported that the woman told gardaí in May 2014 — eight months after members of the force had possession of the vile allegation — that she did not make the complaint in question. What had happened in the intervening eight months?

Why wasn’t she informed and interviewed? Why wasn’t Sgt McCabe informed and interviewed?

Even the most benign explanation — that gardaí cannot investigate unless a complaint is made explicitly to them — does not answer the questions.

An Garda Síochána has a duty of care both to its own members and to the public.

Senior members were aware of a complaint against one of its own about something that could be a threat to children, yet it did nothing for eight months.

Over the same period, Sgt McCabe went from being an anonymous whistleblower who was greeted with some scepticism, to an identifiable human being whose bona fides were confirmed by a number of public figures.

There are a lot of coincidences in there, and without full and prompt explanations from both the HSE and the gardaí, there will continue to be a draining of confidence from both agencies.

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