Michael Clifford: It looks like a cover-up, walks like a cover-up, and smells like a cover-up...

The Charleton Tribunal came across a serious cover-up yesterday. As of now, the cover-up is only alleged, writes Michael Clifford.

Michael Clifford: It looks like a cover-up, walks like a cover-up, and smells like a cover-up...

But on the evidence heard it looks like a cover-up walks like a cover-up and above all smells like a cover-up. This is an extremely serious matter as the alleged cover-up occurred within the state agency charged with protecting children.

The tribunal was hearing the last witness in the module dealing with how a false allegation of serious child sexual abuse against Maurice McCabe was generated and dealt with in the child protection agency Tusla. This occurred at a time when McCabe was making serious waves in An Garda Síochána and beyond by highlighting malpractice within the force.

One central element of the tribunal’s inquiry is concerned with whether there was any collusion between Tusla and An Garda Síochána to blacken McCabe’s name. At the conclusion of the evidence, it is safe to predict the evidence for any direct collusion is scant at best.

However, major questions have emerged from the evidence in how both Tusla and An Garda Síochána dealt with the matter. One such question revolves around the failure of both agencies to inform McCabe that his reputation had been thrashed behind the closed doors of Tusla.

Last February, after the Irish Examiner revealed that the false allegation had been generated in August 2013 and discovered in May 2014, the Disclosures Tribunal was established under the chair of Judge Peter Charleton.

In July, the inquiry heard about a series of “catastrophic errors” within Tusla that ensured the allegation was generated and that it was not identified speedily as being a mistake.

There was also evidence that the false allegation of child rape was transmitted to Garda HQ in 2014 and no effort was made to inform McCabe about it.

Yesterday’s final witness was Lisa O’Loghlen, who works for the sexual abuse review team within the HSE. She was called in on June 2016 after Maurice McCabe was mistakenly written to with the accusation of child rape. His solicitor replied with angry missive about the false claim, sparking panic in Tusla.

Ms O’Loghlen’s job was to review the file. Yesterday, it emerged that the file she was handed was missing crucial documents which referenced the “catastrophic errors”.

Of these, the most serious was the referral that had been made to the gardaí in 2014 with the false allegation.

When the same file was requested by the tribunal earlier this year, the missing documents were included. Yesterday’s, hearing dwelt on whether or not the offending documents had been removed in order to cover up the errors before Ms O’Loghlen was given it.

At one point Peter Charleton summed up the situation, pointing out that the documents were missing when she received them and “then it comes back sealed [to the tribunal] and lo and behold the documents you haven’t seen are back on the file.

“It’s a very stark set of facts confronting you.”

Ms O’Loghlen agreed that the judge’s conclusions made sense but she had no idea who might be culpable. “I can absolutely see how that is what happened, but I can’t put the finger on any individuals,” she said.

Later Judge Charleton repeated his view. “It looks as if [somebody] removed documents from the file going to you to be audited,” he said.

The scenario suggests that even at the late stage of June 2016, three years after the false allegation was generated in the agency, and two after it was discovered, the imperative was not in coming clean with a man done a grievous wrong, but covering up failings.

Over the course of the evidence, Tusla has been exposed as having handled the McCabe case with a breathtaking level of incompetence. This, however, is the first indication that elements within the agency were prepared to cover-up the incompetence.

Such a scenario opens an appalling vista in a body that deals with some of the most vulnerable children in the State. What else might be susceptible to cover-up within the agency?

At the conclusion of yesterday’s proceedings, Judge Charleton said he would now accept submissions from the various parties for this module. He also noted that one other issue he will consider is an apparent failure to inform McCabe about the matter within the force.

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