SOMETIMES at the Charleton Tribunal, there is a surreal feel to what is emerging. This was the case yesterday when details of hopeless incompetence in the child and family agency Tusla were heard in relation to a disturbing garda meeting on what to do about Maurice McCabe.
By July 2014, Maurice McCabe’s reputation had been through the mill within the force. In 2006, there had been an allegation of sexual abuse from a colleague’s daughter which was entirely lacking in credibility.
In August 2013, the same woman went for counselling and, arising out of that, a horrendous false allegation was mistakenly generated that inferred McCabe was accused of child rape. In May 2014, the matter was referred to the gardaí. Some days later, the mistake was discovered and efforts were made to rectify it. McCabe was never told his reputation and character had thus been thrashed behind closed doors.
Roll on to July 16, 2014: A meeting to discuss the May referral was called for 2.30pm. Present were Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny, Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan, divisional officer for Cavan-Monaghan, and Superintendent Leo McGinn from Bailieborough, along with a note-taking sergeant.
The meeting was in Mullingar Garda Station where McCabe was based. He may well have been on duty that day, but unaware that senior members were discussing an issue he thought had been dealt with seven years previously, in 2007.
By July 2014, McCabe was well regarded among the general public. After years in the wilderness, trying to have his concerns addressed, he had largely been vindicated.
The one notable absentee from the meeting was the one senior garda who knew all about this case.
He had investigated it, he was Superintendent Noel Cunningham, who was based in the same station as Chief Supt Sheridan. Yet, nobody thought it a good idea to have him share his extensive knowledge on the case and clear up the whole palaver.
He could have told them the 2006 allegation was deemed to have practically no credibility; that the state solicitor had described it as “horseplay and no more than that” if it occurred at all; that the DPP said the details were vague, Ms D had major credibility problems and even if the incident had occurred, it wasn’t of a criminal nature; that McCabe had disciplined Ms D’s father months before the allegation was made, and this was deemed worthy of mention in the report.
In short, he could have told them it was a ball of smoke and there was absolutely nothing to suggest McCabe was a danger to children.
Instead, the meeting proceeded as if the senior officers were discussing a suspected child abuser. What is surprising is that Chief Supt Sheridan should have known that McCabe was nothing of the sort because, as he has told the tribunal in a statement, he had recently read the 2006 investigation file.
At the outset of the meeting, Assistant Commisioner Kenny told the others that the matter needs to be dealt with “given the people involved”, and that they can’t just take the referral as a new one, according to the minutes.
It was the same incident, as Cunningham could have told them, as Sheridan might have remembered from reading the file a few months earlier.
Chief Supt Sheridan said that no contact had been made between the gardaí and the HSE in 2006/2007. This was not the case.
McGinn raised the issue “that the suspect had access to kids with his job”.
The suspect was a reference to McCabe. McGinn also mentioned that “the suspect had not been arrested at the time and this may be an issue”.
He explained to the tribunal yesterday that this referred to the fact “the power of arrest had not been used and may still be available”, although he added that he had not been advocating a new investigation.
He later said he had no recollection of using the term “suspect” about McCabe. Elsewhere in the minutes, McCabe is referred to as the “suspect offender”.
Assistant Commissioner Kenny wondered what if this was a new referral. McGinn replied that a criminal investigation would take place.
Two courses of action were agreed on. Contact would be made with the HSE, despite the fact that it was the HSE which had notified the gardaí about the issue. And legal advice would be taken.
“I’m trying to work out what the character of the discussion was?” McCabe’s counsel Michael McDowell, SC, asked Supt McGinn. The response was unclear.
McDowell then turned to the fact that McCabe hadn’t a clue that any of this was going on.
“Did any of you think ‘how do we inform Sergeant McCabe of this monumental error and stop this thing gaining legs?’.”
Supt McGinn said it wasn’t for him to tell McCabe, he didn’t know the man.
Hovering over this surreal gathering of senior policemen was a question. Would this meeting, in tone, character and content, have been taking place at all if McCabe was not by then a garda whistleblower, feted among some in the public, reviled among some in the force?
Or were they, as Judge Charleton inquired yesterday, all panicking. Whatever it was, it’s no way to run a police force and was no way to treat McCabe.
The tribunal investigating whether there was a campaign to smear McCabe continues today.
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