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EDITORIAL:Disclosures of incredible incompetence

August 13th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WHAT we have been hearing in evidence given to the Disclosures Tribunal in recent weeks, especially from employees of Tusla, has been shocking, to say the least. The Tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, has been investigating the circumstances surrounding false allegations of sexual abuse that were made against Garda whistle-blower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, trying to find out who knew what and when, and whether the information contained in the allegations was used by senior Garda management to try to smear his reputation.

Worryingly, the evidence given by witnesses has become a catalogue of what can only be described as sheer incompetence that does not reflect well on either Tusla or the HSE who are responsible for the welfare of vulnerable children. It is frightening to think that there might be other cases of such breathtaking incompetence out there too.

The Sgt McCabe case being examined by the Disclosures Tribunal concerns a Tusla file on him that was opened when a young woman, referred to as Ms D, sought counselling in 2013 about a previously reported allegation against the sergeant, which had been investigated by Gardaí seven years earlier, but about which the DPP decided in 2007 not to press charges due to lack of evidence. However, it seems that the details of a totally-unrelated case were incorrectly put into Sgt McCabe's file and that, in December 2014, a letter was sent to him outlining a set of allegations that had nothing whatsoever to do with him.

From evidence given at the Tribunal, it would seem that the error was compounded several times over by various Tusla staff, all of whom denied any malicious intent in doing so and who were only prepared to admit to incompetence, at worst, in the management and handling of the file. Everybody who contributed to the mishandling of the file should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for the stress and misery that it caused the entire McCabe family. 

Receiving a letter saying you have been accused of something so serious, especially when you had nothing to do with it, is bad enough, but when you are already out on a limb over whistle-blower allegations, it must seem like the final straw. As someone who drew attention to shortcomings and abuse of privileges in the workings of An Garda Síochána, hearing about the ineptitude of the handling by Tusla and the HSE of the false allegations against him must be galling.

The whole point of Sgt McCabe's whistle-blowing was to ensure that things were done properly and within the rules. That he should then end up as a victim of gross incompetence has a strong ring of irony to it, to say the least. 

So far, it would be fair to conclude from the evidence given and admissions made to the Disclosures Tribunal that the handling of the allegations against Sgt McCabe was incompetent, careless, irresponsible and even reckless would not be too strong a word to use, especially given that he was denied fair procedures in the way the complaint was dealt with. Senior Tusla staff have apologised to the McCabe family for putting them through the unnecessary ordeal they have had to endure, but it is too serious a matter to be allowed rest at that; those responsible need to be held to account and appropriate disciplinary action must be taken after due process.

No doubt, Mr Justice Peter Charleton will pass judgement on whether there was any malice involved in the way the case was dealt with, whether there was an attempted cover-up of its mishandling and, most importantly, if the unfounded allegations against Sgt McCabe were used by senior Gardaí to try to damage his good name. There is a lot more evidence, which will be of great public interest, to be given to the Disclosures Tribunal between now and the end of this year for the Supreme Court judge to consider before he issues his final report.

What happened Sgt McCabe could have discouraged other whistle-blowers from coming forward, but credit to the government for giving the extra resources needed by sanctioning four investigator posts, along with a support staff member, for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to enable it to investigate disclosures made under the remit it was given by the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act. Early 2017 has seen an increase in disclosures to GSOC with 24 of them made in total over the past three years.

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