It concerned the wrongful conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French military officer of Jewish descent who was jailed for life for allegedly communicating french military secrets to the Germans.
Anyone who sees some parallels — sans anti-semitism — with l’affaire McCabe may wish to consider the role played by the press and public opinion in France in the scandal that rocked the Third French Republic from 1894 until its resolution in 1906.
Two years after his conviction, evidence came to light that Dreyfus was innocent but military officials suppressed the evidence and he was framed on further baseless charges.
That’s when the power of the press and public opinion asserted itself in the form of J’accuse, an open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the famous writer Émile Zola.
Activists then put pressure on the government to reopen the case. France was divided into those opposed to him — mainly anti-semites — and supporters, known as Dreyfusards, such as the actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The case was reopened but ended with a further conviction of Dreyfus until, eventually, the truth emerged; all the accusations against him were found to be baseless and he was reinstated as an officer of the French army.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe has not been subjected to a barrage of criminal trials but he has suffered trial by ordeal — from the time he first sought to report suspicions of widespread abuse of the penalty points system in 2012 to the Guerin report of 2014, the O’Higgins commission the following year, to suffering false allegations of child sexual abuse and enduring the Disclosures tribunal headed by Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton.
Sgt McCabe’s latest endurance test surrounds the admission by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald that she cannot remember either the date or the content of an email she received, while justice minister, that outlined the legal strategy to attack his credibility and motives at the O’Higgins commission, save for the final paragraph that — conveniently — appears to exonerate her of any responsibility for that strategy.
At the very least, this exposes Fitzgerald’s judgment, competence, and credibility.
For most governments, any single one of these would be a resigning matter but, as the opposition knows, that would be likely to precipitate a general election and there is no appetite for one this side of Christmas.
When will it all end? One might imagine that the person most sick and tired of l’affaire McCabe is Maurice McCabe himself.
The Tánaiste’s reputation is in tatters. So is our tribunal system which, more and more, appears to be a service of government obfuscation designed to obscure rather than illuminate matters of significant public interest. The only person or institution to emerge with any dignity from this tawdry affair is Maurice McCabe himself. C’est la vie.