- 17 Feb 17
Over the past week, astonishing revelations have emerged about Garda collusion in a campaign of vilification which painted the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, as a sex offender. With the ‘Child and Family Agency’ Tusla being dragged into it, this has become a real horror story...
I had thought it might be impossible to write about anything other than Donald Trump in this column, more or less for the foreseeable future. But I was wrong. Not because the man has started to make sense. Or mellowed out. Or begun to behave like a human being.
On the contrary, the US Presidential circus has continued, with Trump as malignant clown in chief. The man – if that is indeed what he is – continues to ooze a deeply repugnant reptilian menace that makes you wonder afresh about origins of the human animal. Might some creature from the blue lagoon have successfully taken an evolutionary short-cut and ended up among us? It is, perhaps, unlikely. But watching Donald Trump in action you have to be alert to the possibility that anything could happen; or indeed that it might already have.
There is a dread sense that we are looking into a particularly black rabbit hole, not knowing what kind of grotesque, pointy-headed creature might emerge next, with a nuclear device poised and ready to explode. But the truth is that nothing Donald Trump or his crooked cronies have done over the past fortnight remotely matches what has been happening among the Garda Síochána in Ireland for sheer treacherousness and downright sleaze.
As has so often been the case in Irish life in recent times, it is only because of the superb work of journalists – notably Katie Hannon for RTE’s Prime Time Investigates and Mick Clifford of The Examiner – that we are beginning to see just how twisted has been the treatment, by the State, of the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe. And by Jesus, has it been fucking twisted.
There had been ample evidence in the past of a culture within the Garda Síochána, that facilitated serious abuses of power. The worst examples happened, during the 1990s, in Donegal – where two particularly ruthless megalomaniacs were at large. At their behest, a bunch of unscrupulous Gardaí concocted an entirely spurious case against Frank Shortt. In 1995, he was arrested and charged with allowing drugs to be sold on the premises of the pub that he owned in Quigley’s Point, Co. Donegal. He was thrown in jail. His business was destroyed. He was struck off as an accountant. His family fell apart.
In the long run he was awarded €4.5 million in damages against the State by the Supreme Court. But, in truth, nothing could compensate him for the torture he had been put through by the Gardaí, and in turn by the State itself.
And then there was Frank McBrearty Jnr, whose family owned a pub in Raphoe, also in Co. Donegal. The local Gardaí tried to frame him for the murder of Richie Barron in 1996. Here, the story is so horrendously complicated that it would take a week to repeat in all of its gory detail. But the nub of it is that, for no reason at all, the McBrearty family were subjected to a sustained campaign of criminal harassment, intimidation, and mind-boggling skulduggery on the part of the Gardaí, which effectively ruined their lives individually and collectively. They too ultimately received millions in compensation, in a case that cost the State €6.5 million. But it was not enough either for the physical and mental torture they had endured.
The Morris Tribunal (aka ‘The Tribunal of Inquiry into complaints concerning some Gardaí of the Donegal division’) was eventually – and it has to be said reluctantly – established to inquire into allegations made against the Gardaí in the 1990s and early 2000s, including by Frank Shortt and Frank McBrearty.
“The Tribunal has been staggered by the amount of indiscipline and insubordination it has found in the Garda force,” Judge Frederick Morris said, in his Report. He was speaking about the force as a whole. “There is a small, but disproportionately influential, core of mischief-making members who will not obey orders,” he added, “who will not follow procedures, who will not tell the truth and who have no respect for their officers.”
So we have been here before. We know the form. But, in certain respects, what has happened in the Maurice McCabe case goes beyond even that. Way beyond.
Most Irish people will know that Sergeant Maurice McCabe, who was based in Baileborough, Co. Cavan, rose to national prominence as a result of complaints he made about a variety of abuses of power and corruption involving Gardaí. The reaction within the Gardaí was to ostracise and isolate him.
In December 2012, he was denied access to the Garda Pulse system, in effect neutering him from carrying out his normal functions as a Garda sergeant. Where others might have backed down and accepted the status quo, however, Maurice McCabe refused. He stuck to his guns, making the case that he was being treated unfairly to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for Transport and Tourism, Leo Varadkar. They passed his complaints on to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter – ultimately to little avail.
McCabe’s cause was ably championed in the Dáil by independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. But no one in authority, and especially within the Gardaí, gave him a shred of support. On the contrary when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in the Dáil, in January 2014, the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan made no bones about what he felt about this “so called whistleblower.” The Commissioner made the point that out of a force of over 13,000 people there were just two – McCabe and John Wilson – who were making serious allegations against their colleagues. “Frankly, I think it is quite disgusting,” the Commissioner said, and he repeated it for emphasis. “On a personal level, I think it is quite disgusting.”
It was a statement that would come back to haunt the Commissioner. He was forced to resign, as was the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter. But anyone who thought that might be the end of the affair was completely wrong.
Nóirín O’Sullivan was chosen to replace Martin Callinan as Garda Commissioner. The suspicion lurked that this would involve no new broom. As the then-Assistant Garda Commissioner, she had sat beside Callinan while he delivered his condemnations of McCabe and Wilson – and she did not demur. Afterwards, in the concourse of Government buildings, where the PAC hearings are held, there were winks and nods to journalists about the ‘full story’ on Martin McCabe. It was part of a whispering campaign which was designed to discredit Maurice McCabe.
Journalists were told off the record about a charge of child abuse that was hanging over the Baileboro man. He was being investigated by the Child and Family Agency (now Tusla). How could complaints from a man like this be taken seriously? Now here’s a bit of an exclusive for you…
It was, it turned out, the story that would not lie down and die. And for very good reason. What has emerged over the past week is that there was a concerted campaign to blacken Maurice McCabe’s name. That in itself is shocking. But the fact that Tusla was effectively suborned into that campaign makes a mockery of the entire justice apparatus in Ireland. Given Tusla’s critical importance to the well-being of children, and the extraordinary powers that are invested in those who work for the agency, for it to be embroiled in such an appalling mess borders on the unthinkable. But it has happened.
There may be revelations to come about the precise sequence of events, and but for now, this is what we can say with reasonable confidence. In January 2006, Sergeant Maurice McCabe broke ranks for the first time, making a complaint against a colleague, which led to the Garda in question being disciplined. In December of that year, a complaint was made, alleging that there had been inappropriate contact between McCabe and the six year-old daughter of the same Garda during a game of hide and seek, some years previously. This information was passed to the DPP, who decided that Maurice McCabe had no case to answer.
Fast forward seven years. After Maurice McCabe turned whistle-blower, in August 2013, Tusla was notified by an as yet unidentified counsellor of allegations made by a client against Maurice McCabe. In fact, these allegations involved a rehash of the accusations from 2006. In addition to notifying Tusla, the counsellor seems also to have contacted a Garda Superintendent with the same information, which effectively accused Sergeant McCabe of being a child rapist.
Bizarrely – and for reasons that no one has explained – nothing was done by the Gardaí to investigate these allegations. They sat in a file. If there had been any substance to them, a child rapist was on the loose and the Garda were doing nothing about it. Notwithstanding that extraordinary failure, in April 2014, Tusla opened a file on Sergeant McCabe – and also on each of his four children. Information in the files claimed that he had sexually abused a young woman.
There is a sinister, labyrinthine aspect to this whole affair which genuinely beggars belief. As an outside observer, you have to wonder: what mad hall of mirrors have we entered, that the agencies of the State can be so utterly incompetent? A month later, in May 2014, the counsellor apparently contacted Tusla to say that she had made “an administrative error.” No one yet knows how this about-turn happened, though it has been suggested that, in the meantime, the original complainant was interviewed by Gardai, and she told them that she had never mentioned digital penetration to the counsellor.
According to the counsellor, the ‘digital’ aspect of the allegation had been cut and pasted from a ‘template’ in error. Which inevitably begs the question: to how many others might this kind of ‘administrative error’ have occurred? How many innocent people have wrongly been accused of rape? Or heard the loud knock on the door that signals an official investigation?
Tusla, it seems, notified the Gardaí about this latest development. Again, for reasons that remain obscure, the Gardaí decided to stay schtum. All the while, Maurice McCabe and his family remained in the dark. They did not know about the existence of the files. Worse still, nothing seems to have been done within Tusla to erase the files. They simply sat there.
As a result, over a year and a half later, in December 2015, a social worker wrote to Sergeant McCabe informing him that an investigation was taking place into allegations that he had sexually abused a child, involving ‘digital penetration’ – including anally. How an allegation of this gravity, which in any event had been withdrawn, could sit in a file for 19 months before it was investigated remains to be established. But that is what happened.
This was the first time that Sergeant Maurice McCabe became aware of the fact that fresh allegations had been made; that files had been created in Tusla on him and his children; that the Gardaí were aware of what had been happening; and that he was under ‘investigation’ for alleged rape. You really couldn’t make this stuff up. It is the raw material for a dystopian fantasy about the workings of a brutal, autocratic regime. But it actually happened. In Ireland. Over the past few years.
In June 2016, an unnamed social worker at Tusla apparently admitted that a mistake had been made in previous correspondence and acknowledged that no allegation of digital penetration had been made against Maurice McCabe. His legal representatives requested copies of all of the files that had been created about him and his family from Tusla.
So, what the fuck was going on, within both Tusla and the Garda Síochána? Could all of this really be down to stupidity and incompetence? And if so, how can people have any faith whatsoever in either the Gardaí or Tusla from now on?
What we can say for sure is that journalists were being fed the line that everything was not as it seemed with Maurice McCabe; that if people knew what he was really like they would see his whistleblowing in a different light; that you couldn’t believe someone who was capable of abusing a child. And the sorry truth is that the hand-in-glove nature of the relationship between the Gardaí and security correspondents in the media meant that the whispering was, to an extent at least, believed.
All of which points to an even more horrific possibility: that a campaign to destroy Maurice McCabe was being orchestrated by persons unknown, probably within the Garda Síochána, with the collusion – accidental or otherwise – of employees of Tusla; that is, that the intention of the campaign was to utterly ruin his life, and that of his family, in the way that the lives of Frank McBrearty and Frank Shortt were ruined.
CRUSHING OF DISSENT
Can we ever get to the truth of what really did happen – and who was responsible? Will we ever get to hear the basis of the original accusations? Or find out what lay behind the utterly shambolic handling of those accusations by both the Gardaí and by Tusla? The Taoiseach has promised a Public Inquiry. In truth, however, this is a criminal matter. But it is not an investigation that the Gardaí can credibly carry out – not least because responsibility for either the incompetence, or the apparent attempt to smear McCabe, could potentially go all the way to the top. And as for the performance of the politicians throughout – let’s just be kind and say that they should never have taken the Garda top brass at their word on something of such exceptional gravity. Alan Shatter was, unfairly as it turned out, deemed expendable along the way. With Enda Kenny, Katherine Zappone and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald all contradicting one another, one or two more might have to fall on their swords yet as a result.
To take the grim, Kafka-esque behaviour of the agents of the State in this shocking saga to its logical conclusion, last week Tusla sent a formal apology to Sergeant McCabe – and somehow contrived to have it delivered to the wrong address. In fact, the envelope containing the apology was found in the garden of the house next door by the daughter of a neighbour. You really couldn’t invent this stuff. But it is true. So where do we go from here? For a start, only a completely independent criminal investigation – carried out by an investigator drafted in specially for the purpose (and made a member of the Gardai if necessary) – is likely to get to the bottom of what happened. Existing Garda top brass simply cannot be allowed to control it.
Tusla also needs to be brought within the scope of any criminal investigation, so that the trail of accusations made against Maurice McCabe can be definitively established. And if culpable wrong-doing was involved on the part of individuals, then that must be followed through on in the appropriate manner.
Right now, the credibility of the ‘Child and Family Agency’ is in shreds. The same is true of the Gardaí. There are brilliant people working in the Garda Síochána. I have dealt with many of them and been impressed.
But the truth is that Mick Wallace and Clare Daly were right all along. There is a culture in the force, from the top down, where arrogance, bullying and the crushing of dissent rule. You can view Maurice McCabe’s decision to go public on the quashing of penalty points as small-minded and disloyal to his colleagues. But, even if you do take that view, there is no way on earth that you can justify the things that were done, the accusations that were made and the smear campaign that was instigated and carried out against him.
An individual is innocent until proven guilty. That is the beginning and the end of it.
And now, about that shark Trump...