False sex abuse allegations against Sergeant Maurice McCabe destroyed his life and the lives of his family, and the apparent weaponisation of those false allegations has made life even worse for genuine victims, writes Donal O'Keeffe.
The best-case scenario about the Maurice McCabe shambles seems to be that the State is capable of accidentally creating the worst false allegations possible and destroying completely the life of a whistleblower. That's the best case. That in Ireland someone can be branded by the State a child-rapist by mistake.
If such a thing is possible, that's terrifying. And the alternative – that the State deliberately set out to completely destroy Sergeant McCabe – is even worse.
"Ah yeah," said my Garda friend, "but you're only getting one side of the story."
This was in the wake of last Thursday's explosive revelations – first by the Irish Examiner's Mick Clifford and then by Prime Time's Katie Hannon – of what Sgt McCabe and his wife Lorraine call a "false and shocking campaign" to vilify them.
I asked my Garda friend if that "one side of the story" was the false allegations by two Gardaí of a confession by McCabe of malicious intent (and wasn't McCabe a lucky boy that he had surreptitiously recorded that conversation and was able to prove he had said no such thing)?
Or was it the whole business with the paedophile priest's computer going missing while it was in Garda possession, and the attempt to pin its disappearance on McCabe?
Or was it the way someone in Tusla accidentally created via cut and paste life-destroying allegations of sexual abuse against McCabe and hit "send" without double-checking? Or was it the way that of all the people in the country such a horrific thing might befall, it just happened to befall the most prominent Garda whistleblower?
Or perhaps that "one side" would cover the vile rumours spread against McCabe? The then Garda press officer, Superintendent Dave Taylor – who has since himself turned whistleblower – alleges he was instructed by senior Garda management to spread those rumours among politicians and figures in the media.
Taylor also claims to have texted Nóirín O'Sullivan to keep her appraised of this and – he claims – she replied "Perfect". O'Sullivan vehemently denies this, saying she would have received huge number of text messages on various matters. She says she often responds to text messages using the word “perfect” or “thanks”, and describes these as “perfunctory” replies.
Another Garda friend told me he's at this point utterly ashamed of his organisation and that Commissioner O'Sullivan has to go. He had heard the rumours about McCabe but was astonished and sickened by last week's revelations.
Yet another Garda friend believes Nóirín O'Sullivan has to be the last "Garda" Garda Commissioner. What's coming up the ranks after her, my friend claims, is the same "Old Guard", albeit split between two camps, one side more "operational" in its approach, the other more "managerial". It is from the latter school of thought that the current commissioner hails.
The next commissioner, my friend believes, will have to be a civilian or an import from another jurisdiction. Not only that, but for the next commissioner to be able to work effectively, she or he will have to be surrounded by a team of senior management which similarly comes from outside of what my friend calls "The Templemore Culture".
If you're like me, you may have struggled to keep on top of all of the twists in the McCabe story. I'm indebted to Broadsheet.ie for their exhaustive (and exhausting) timeline of this saga.
The Broadsheet timeline begins in January 2006, when Sergeant Maurice McCabe made a complaint relating to an incident in which a Garda had consumed alcohol before attending the scene of a suicide. McCabe's colleague was reprimanded.
In December of that year, that same Garda colleague made a complaint on behalf of his daughter, in which it was alleged that ten years earlier at a birthday party, when she was six, McCabe had tickled her and rubbed up against her.
When McCabe heard of the allegation, he demanded a full investigation. That was carried out by a Garda inspector from another station and a file was sent to the DPP. The DPP decided that not only was there insufficient evidence for a prosecution, but that in all likelihood the allegation did not even constitute a crime ("no offence disclosed").
Perhaps we should remember that the young woman at the centre of the false allegations against Maurice McCabe – a girl at the time those false allegations were made – may now have her own troubles. There are huge sensitivities here, and there's an obvious reason why such allegations are supposed to be examined in the strictest confidence.
Nobody has done more on the Garda whistleblower story than the Irish Examiner's Michael Clifford. Mick had an intriguing piece in Saturday's Examiner, in which he outlined how the initial 2006 complaint against McCabe was repeated to a HSE counsellor in August 2013 and a file was created by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency which – somehow – included completely untrue allegations against McCabe.
In May 2014, the "clerical error" which had falsely branded Maurice McCabe a child abuser was discovered. By that time, crime correspondents had already been briefed with the false allegations against McCabe and the crim corrs had spread that information back to their colleagues.
Clifford asks some interesting questions about the Irish Independent's Paul Williams' interviewing the young woman who made the false allegations against McCabe and the stark contrast between her willingness to speak with Williams and her seeming indifference to speaking with Tusla.
As ever, Mick is well worth a read.
There is surely no more heinous crime than sexual abuse, and the false accusation of such a crime would shatter anyone's life. One would imagine that most people would prefer to be falsely accused of murder.
There is a serious point which is in danger of being lost in all of this. I've written here before about The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (2002). That report is now fifteen years old and it remains a deeply disturbing work. Among its many shocking findings: 27% of Irish women and men experience sexual violence in their childhood. Roughly one third of Irish women and men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Only one in ten victims of sexual crime in Ireland reports that crime. Those who do report those crimes then face a torturous journey to the point where the DPP thinks it worth prosecuting the case. Ireland has the lowest conviction rate for rape cases – following allegation – in Europe, standing at 1 – 2%. The EU average is 8 – 10%.
Apart – obviously – from the unimaginable damage done to Sergeant McCabe and his family, the worst thing about the false allegations of child abuse against McCabe – and the seeming weaponisation thereof – is that they serve to make it all that more difficult for abuse survivors to come forward, and to believe that they will be believed, and to trust that they will see justice.
At the time of going to press, the Taoiseach (and his implausibly-deniable coalition partners in Fianna Fáil) are making noises about investigating this whole omnishambles by a public tribunal of investigation.
Given that the Garda Commissioner is accused of leading the charge against Maurice McCabe, her position is surely untenable. At the very least she needs to stand aside.
Maurice McCabe and his family have seen their lives completely destroyed by a false allegation of the worst possible crime.
It seems at this point that nothing short of a criminal investigation – carried out by members of an external police force – has any chance of getting to the truth.