Michael Clifford: Witnesses’ awareness of current events comes under judge’s scrutiny

Peter Charleton asked a witness at the Disclosures Tribunal whether she was aware that Leo Varadkar was the Taoiseach. The witness, a social worker, confirmed that she was aware of this. She also knew Enda Kenny was the previous Taoiseach, writes Michael Clifford

Not just that, but she confirmed, when asked, that she had heard about the recent fire tragedy in London.

The chairman’s queries were valid. During her time in the witness box, Laura Connolly had repeatedly given evidence that she knew nothing about the Maurice McCabe story prior to being contacted by the tribunal for a statement in March.

For instance, she wasn’t aware of the storm that was kicked up in early February of this year, when it was revealed that the man known as the garda whistleblower had been the subject of a false allegation of child sexual abuse. She didn’t hear about that, despite the matter concerning child welfare, an area in which she had worked for Tusla, the Child And Family Agency.

She didn’t hear about it, despite the issue having occurred in Cavan, where she worked. She didn’t hear about it, despite having had a role herself in the catalogue of errors that led to the sergeant and his family being thrust into a nightmare.

Ms Connolly simply didn’t know what was going on in the world around her.

“I’m very much of the view that life brings its own stressors and I don’t follow the news,” she told the judge.

Mr Justice Charleton probed further about her awareness of the McCabe story. “It’s not of interest to me,” she said. “I couldn’t give you bullet points on it.”

She was not the only witness lacking in knowledge about the whistleblower garda. The tribunal had heard that between 2004 and 2008, McCabe had attended a series of Garda child protection services meetings in his role as sergeant-in-charge at Bailieboro in Co Cavan.

Yet, when the tribunal requested statements from personnel in Tusla, they got short responses referencing emails and claiming that that was all they knew.

Gerard Lowry
Gerard Lowry

The second witness yesterday, the area manager for Tusla in the north-east, Gerard Lowry, began his evidence by saying he didn’t know Maurice McCabe.

“I don’t know him; I don’t believe I was ever in a meeting with him,” said Mr Lowry.

He was then shown records of liason meetings between the gardaí and Tusla at which both Sgt McCabe and the witness were in attendance, representing their respective organisations. At some of these meetings, the two men were detailed to form part of a “core team” to deal with particular cases. Mr Lowry was brought through the records and, while he said he accepted them, he added: “But I still don’t think that I know Maurice McCabe.”

The unusual evidence from Tusla staff is against a background where a litany of errors by the organisation in dealing with a false allegation against Sgt McCabe continue to spill out.

Yesterday, the tribunal explored how, after the false allegation was discovered by Tusla in May 2014, there continued a process as if it had never been discovered.

This led, ultimately, to a letter being dispatched to McCabe in December 2015 detailing the allegation and telling him he had to be examined to see if he was a danger to children.

Mr Lowry was area manager at the time. He had been informed of the error in May 2014, and he had been sent a year later an email of the draft of the letter to be dispatched to McCabe.

John Wilson
John Wilson

Mr Lowry told the tribunal he didn’t open the attachment to the email which detailed the allegation. Another oversight. Another error. Another example of where intervention could have ensured a catastrophic error might be detected.

“This is another error,” counsel for the tribunal Patrick Marrinan put to Mr Lowry.

“And every error is to the detriment of Sgt McCabe. There isn’t any error in his favour. Nobody made an error by which he benefitted and there are those who may say that this litany of grave errors can’t just be coincidence after coincidence and you are assuring us they are coincidences.”

The witness replied that they were coincidences and bad management.

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