OVER the course of a month or so in 2017, the Disclosures Tribunal heard evidence of how Maurice McCabe’s reputation was trashed in the Child and Family Agency, Tusla. He had been falsely branded as a suspected child rapist in August 2013.
The following year, a file was opened on his children on the basis that they may be in danger from their father. In May 2014, the error had been notified to Tusla through the gardaí when it was discovered.
Yet even after that, a letter was sent out to the then Garda sergeant, notifying him that a serious allegation had been made against him and suggesting he could be a danger to children. That letter brought the whole affair to Mr McCabe’s attention.
Eventually, despite procrastination by Tusla, the McCabe family was able to access their records and piece together some of what had occurred.
There has been a trail of apparent errors, oversights, and misrepresentations and all of it occurred against a man who was known as a Garda whistleblower.
At the tribunal in Dublin Castle, counsel Patrick Marrinan put it to the head of Tusla in the north-east, Gerry Lowry, that there had been a litany of errors, all of them in their own way painting Mr McCabe in a poor light.
“There isn’t an error in his [McCabe’s] favour. Nobody made a mistake by which he benefited, do you understand?” Mr Marrinan put to the witness. “And there are those who may say that this litany of grave errors can’t just simply be coincidence after coincidence after coincidence that is being suggested, do you understand?”
Mr Lowry replied that he understood.
“I think they are terrible errors consistently, but they were absolutely coincidences,” he said.
“Bad file management.”
Mr Lowry and two of his colleagues are now to be the focus of a professional conduct inquiry, held by the health professional regulator, Coru. The inquiry is a statutory, sworn process, to be held in public unless the committee conducting it accede to any request that it be conducted behind closed doors.
Mr Lowry will be joined at the inquiry by his colleagues Katherine McLoughlin and Seamus Deeney.
All three had a role in the litany of errors within the agency. In August 2013, a woman known as Ms D attended for counselling at a service in the north-east. She related an allegation she had made seven years earlier against Mr McCabe, itself relating to when she was a child in 1998. The DPP and investigating garda found the allegation to be without substance. Mr McCabe and Ms D’s father had been colleagues in work and had had a poor relationship.
The tribunal heard the allegation, which was deemed unfounded, would have amounted to “horseplay” even if it had been stood up.
The counsellor mistakenly mixed up the Ms D allegation with another case on her file concerning a man accused of raping a child and threatening her father. This made its way to Tusla.
The following May, a Garda notification was sent out to Bailieboro, where Maurice McCabe had been based. The error was spotted immediately by Ms D’s father and Tulsa notified. Then the errors began to mount up.
Seamus Deeney was informed in May 2014 of the error and a corrected notification was then sent to the gardaí about the original Ms D allegation. It is unclear why this required to be sent at all. Seamus Deeney checked the new notification but he did not spot that it contained a suggestion that Mr McCabe had threatened Ms D’s father over the alleged contact with Ms D, which was associated with the false allegation.
“I didn’t pick up on that at the time,” Mr Deeney told the tribunal.
The following year he saw the letter with the incorrect allegation to be sent to Mr McCabe and he did not spot that this was entirely false, as had been conveyed to him in 2014.
That letter was compiled by Katherine McLoughlin from reading the file on Mr McCabe. The file contained the original “horseplay”allegation and the incorrect allegation of rape.
She ended up using the incorrect rape allegation that had been corrected the previous year. There were 30 pages in the Ms D file, 19 of which either referred to the “horseplay” allegation or to the correction of the false allegation. Just six pages in the file read as if the false allegation still stood.
Yet, the letter was compiled using the false allegation, telling Mr McCabe that he may be considered a danger to children. Ms McLoughlin said she did not examine the file in detail and put her actions down to human error.
Mr Lowry, as regional head of Tusla, who was also aware that the false allegation had been corrected, also signed off on the letter. He also said this was an error.
All three gave evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal and will now face the professional conduct inquiry. Sources in the social care area have repeatedly made the point that the whole system is under intolerable pressure and short-staffed. Whether these issues will arise in the inquiry remains to be seen.
After the whole case was made public in the media in February 2017 — initially through the Irish Examiner — there was public outrage. The coincidence of Mr McCabe, a vindicated whistleblower, being subjected to these allegations met with public fury. As a result, a public tribunal was deemed necessary to get to the bottom of it. The tribunal did not find that anybody had acted with malice, but Judge Peter Charleton was critical of the litany of errors, including the procrastination in dealing with the issue once Mr McCabe’s solicitor had contacted Tusla for an explanation.
“From 2016, no one within Tulsa considered owning up to the serious mistakes that had been made,” Judge Charleton wrote.
“The solicitors’ letter of complaint on Mr McCabe’s behalf, sent in response to the letter from Tusla received in January 2016, was an invitation to give a proper explanation of what had happened. Had that happened, had Tusla senior management sat down and read the file and then forthrightly replied setting out fully the mistakes that they had made, this tribunal of inquiry would most probably have been avoided.”