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'Grave error', 'emotional', 'catastrophic': The who, what and when of the Maurice McCabe saga

16 days in to the Disclosures Tribunal, we give you a breakdown of what people said happened and when they said it did.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE DISCLOSURES TRIBUNAL has spent the last few weeks taking a deep dive into how false allegations against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe came to be widely circulated.

Over the past decade, McCabe highlighted damaging examples of garda practice, leading to numerous reports and a commission of investigation.

Concurrently, allegations of sexual abuse incorrectly made it into a file on McCabe, and was distributed by Tusla to the gardaí.

After intense political pressure, the government set up this tribunal to establish whether or not there was a campaign to smear McCabe.

Over 16 days so far, it has heard evidence from gardaí, social workers, journalists and others, including Ms D who made the initial allegation against McCabe back in 2006.

Here’s a timeline to get you up to speed on what the people involved in all of this say happened, and when they say it happened:

Early stages

  • January 2006: Sergeant Maurice McCabe complains about the behaviour of some of his colleagues at Bailieboro Garda Station. Mr D – father of Ms D – is one of those accused of attending the scene of a suicide  in a “highly emotional and intoxicated” state. After a report from McCabe, who was in charge at that scene, Mr D and another officer are “reverted to regular duties”. 
  • December 2006: A formal complaint is made by Ms D against McCabe. It was alleged that the sergeant had sexually assaulted her by engaging in inappropriate movements during a game of hide and seek in 1996.
  • Late 2006 – early 2007: Superintendent Noel Cunningham is tasked with investigating the claims made by Ms D.

22092 Cunningham_90518412 Superintendent Noel Cunningham Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

  • October 2007: The DPP determines the allegations do not constitute a sexual assault or an assault. In a letter to gardaí, local state solicitor Rory Hayden says there are inconsistencies in the file on Ms D’s allegations, and that the “alleged victim’s credibility is strained in all these circumstances”. The case is formally closed. At this stage, Cunningham only tells McCabe that there was “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution.

2013

McCabe was one of the whistleblowers who had brought the penalty points scandal to light. There were further developments on this front in 2013, while the “copy/paste” error that took place in the summer set in motion the events that were to follow.

  • March 2013: Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony publishes a report on the cancelling of penalty points, an issue that was brought to light by garda whistleblowers John Wilson and McCabe. The report said that the actions of unnamed gardaí may have breached the rules. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan says he is “relieved” that “no evidence” to suggest criminality had been found.
  • July 2013: Ms D seeks counselling reluctantly, at her mother’s request following the media coverage of McCabe. Laura Brophy, a psychologist and counsellor with RIAN (a free counselling service under the remit of the HSE), meets Ms D for the first time.
  • Summer-autumn 2013: Laura Brophy makes a “copy and paste error”.  She adds allegations from an unrelated case involving a Ms Y to the Ms D case file. The claims in Ms Y’s file relate to a more serious allegation of digital penetration.

9544 Disclosures Tribunal_90516942 Laura Brophy Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

  • August 2013: HSE social work team leader Keara McGlone writes to Superintendent Noel Cunningham about (the erroneous) allegations received by the HSE at this time from the Ms D file relating to McCabe. Cunningham never responds to the letter. (It was put to him at the tribunal that he deliberately ignored the letter because it would be “allowed to fester and surface later to cause McCabe some hardship”. Cunningham denied this was the case, and said the letter was only found in 2017 after “very detailed searches”.) A HSE file is created in McCabe’s name at the time. These allegations received were based on a telephone call with Brophy.
  • 1 October 2013: The Comptroller and Auditor General publishes a damning report on the penalty points scandal, supporting the claims of McCabe and others.
  • Late 2013: Ms D told the Tribunal that a number of journalists contacted her from late 2013 onwards, and into the following year, asking her to speak about the McCabe allegations.

2014

It is here we come to a crucial few months in the timeline. With the error already on the file, it begins to come to light that a mistake has been made.

Critical aspects of this case have been teased out through events between March and May 2014 by the tribunal so far. Alongside the events of the tribunal, there were also significant developments in the situation with the gardaí at this time.

garda-whistleblower-at-pac-serving-ga- Maurice McCabe arriving at Leinster House to address the Public Accounts Committee Source: Laura Hutton/TheJournal.ie

  • March 2014: Ms D meets with journalist and broadcaster Paul Williams for an interview. She told the Tribunal that her father, during a meeting with a colleague Detective Sergeant John O’Reilly, was given the suggestion of getting her to speak to Williams.
  • 25 March 2014: Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan resigns. He had previously described the actions of McCabe and another whistleblower as “disgusting” but refuses to retract the remark. His resignation comes after months of controversy surrounding his handling of a number of issues (not just this one). Read more on that here.

File Photo Maurice McCabe's Smear Campaign Martin Callinan Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

  • 30 April 2014: Social worker Laura Connolly reviews Ms D’s file. She then creates records for each of McCabe’s children. These records erroneously contained the allegations from the Ms Y case.

This is a crucial month in the whole chain of events that preceded and followed. A notice is sent by Tusla to Bailieboro Garda Station containing the false allegations against McCabe.

  • May 2014: Ms D’s father contacts her to tell her about the allegation of digital rape on a Tusla notification sent to gardaí. ”I completely lost it. I said over and over that is not me, I never said that,” Ms D told the tribunal.
  • 2 May 2014: The HSE Southeast receives copies of the report containing erroneous allegations.
  • 7 May 2014: Alan Shatter resigns as Minister for Justice in the wake of the Guerin report, which said both the gardaí and the minister failed to properly investigate the matters raised by McCabe. He is later exonerated of wrongdoing.
  • 14 May 2014: Ms D contacts Laura Brophy and informs her of the error. Brophy said Ms D was emotional and upset, and told her there was a report in Bailieboro Garda station to the effect that she had been raped.
  • 28 May 2014: The HSE Southeast receives a corrected file after being told of the errors in the report. Director of counselling Dr Gerard O’Neill told the tribunal that the file containing the incorrect information was then shredded.
  • Also in May 2014: Brophy contacts Fiona Ward, a director of counselling at RIAN, after discovering the error. She tells her that incorrect details were included in a report of historical abuse, including the name of another client of the counselling service, Ms Y.

9502 Disclosures Tribunal_90516948 Fiona Ward Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

  • May 2014: Social worker Laura Connolly says that no one contacted her after the alarm was raised over the error.
  • May 2014:  Social work team leader Eileen Argue told the tribunal that she did not recall any of the events of May 2014, and did not know why a notification was sent out to a garda station, or why records were opened on McCabe’s children.
  • May 2014: Garda sergeant Tony Byrne told the tribunal he did not see the notification sent to the station, and that it would be “unusual” for him not to see such a file.

After the error in the file was spotted, but not yet fully corrected, gardaí appeared keen to establish what was going on.

  • 9 June 2014: Chief Superintendent James Sheridan writes to Fiona Ward to ask for clarification on whether the allegation was new or related to a previous report, and how the error had occurred and was discovered.
  • Late June 2014: Inspector Pat O’Connell speaks to Ward seeking clarification, and asks if it was a typographical error/cut and paste which led to the incorrect information being sent out. Ward confirms this is the case.
  • 3 July 2014: Ms D makes a complaint to GSOC about how her case was handled. This complaint is not upheld.
  • Mid- to-late 2014: The Tribunal heard that supplementary documentation added to McCabe file detailed the error made. The false allegation is contained in six documents in the file. Of the remaining 19 documents, a number were devoted to correcting the error.
  • 25 November 2014: Nóirín O’Sullivan is formally appointed as garda commissioner.

International Association of Chiefs of Police Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan Source: RollingNews.ie

2015

Despite clarifications on the file about the false allegations pertaining to Ms Y, the perception that the allegations did refer to McCabe persist this year.

  • September 2015: Senior Tusla manager Gerard Lowry told the tribunal that he did not look at an email attachment containing a draft letter to be sent to McCabe, which contained false allegations.
  • Late-2015: Social work team leader Kay McLoughlin reviews the files but said she did not see an email in the file which outlined how the allegation from an unrelated case had been added to the file.

9752 Disclosures Tribunal copy_90517693 Kay McLoughlin Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

  • Late 2015: McLoughlin speaks with Garda Sergeant Tony Byrne at a liaison meeting in 2015. Byrne said he felt “uncomfortable” and did not know what she was talking about when she mentioned McCabe.

2016

The errors were compounded this year with McCabe’s legal team going on the attack over a letter sent to him containing the allegations.

  • January 2016: Social work team leader Kay McLoughlin sends a letter to Maurice McCabe which contained the false allegations of serious sexual abuse against him. She told the tribunal it was a “grave error”.
  • May 2016: Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness tells the Dáil that he met with then-commissioner Martin Callinan in a car park on the Naas Road, and Callinan told him that McCabe was “not to be trusted” and that there were “serious issues about him”.
  • June 2016: McCabe’s solicitor sends a letter to Tusla. It challenges the basis of any investigation by Tusla into the false allegations. Tusla area manager Gerard Lowry said staff felt “overwhelmed” and “very anxious” when it became clear that the mistaken allegation had been put into Maurice McCabe’s file in error.
  • Mid to late 2016: Social worker Clair Tobin is sent files relating to McCabe after his solicitors wrote to the agency complaining about the letter he received containing the allegations. She told the tribunal she was given a “sanitised” version of the documents.

2017

The groundswell of criticism for how McCabe’s case was handled left the government with no choice but to launch a full, public inquiry into the affair.

  • January 2017: Documents released to McCabe under the Freedom of Information act detail the litany of errors that led to these false allegations.
  • 14 February 2017: The government announces that there will be a tribunal into the affair, and will look to establish if a smear campaign was set up against Maurice McCabe.
  • 30 March 2017: The Charleton Tribunal sits for the first time.

9629 Disclosures Tribunal_90517638 Supreme Court Justice Peter Charleton Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

  • 23 June 2017: Social worker Laura Connolly realises that she made a “catastrophic” mistake in creating files on Maurice McCabe’s children.

And that’s just the evidence to date. There is plenty more to come in this complex, murky tale.

We still have to hear what many others have to say about these events. There are four names atop that list: Maurice McCabe, David Taylor, Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Read: The tribunal is dead, long live the tribunal: Ireland’s messy love affair with ‘the truth’

Explainer: What exactly is a Tribunal of Inquiry?

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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