Tuesday 12 December 2017

McCabe is not the only victim of nasty smear campaigns

The woman who was dragged into the McCabe saga has the right to tell her side of the story, says Eilis O'Hanlon

CONTROVERSY: Sgt Maurice McCabe
CONTROVERSY: Sgt Maurice McCabe

Eilis O'Hanlon

There was an official narrative doing the rounds about Sergeant Maurice McCabe. It said that the Cavan-based whistleblower was not to be trusted, for various unsavoury reasons, and that any disclosures he made about wrongdoings by his Garda colleagues were therefore not to be trusted either.

It's now been replaced by a new popular narrative, which says that McCabe made a nuisance of himself by raising the abuse of penalty points, among other things, so the powers-that-be concocted false allegations of child abuse against him, because that's what powers-that-be do when in a tight spot.

Neither version is entirely accurate. Rather, McCabe became a problem to those higher up, and they wanted to cast doubt on his testimony, and there happened to be an ugly allegation on file that he was unsafe around children, so they used that, because that's what organisations do. They find their critics' weak spots and exploit those to their own advantage.

It might seem like a small quibble, but it is central to the whole affair, because there's a gulf of difference between a false story being circulated by people who didn't know it was false, and one deliberately concocted to damage a decent man doing his job.

Tusla, the State's child and family agency, insists that the wholly false allegation that he had digitally penetrated a child only appeared on McCabe's file in error.

For the guardians of the new truth, it all sounds much too convenient, but that's the wrong way to look at it. They seem to be saying that, because something turned out to be useful to someone's agenda, it must have been manufactured to be useful, rather than that McCabe's enemies needed something to use against him, and were too quick to give credence to what they found without verifying it first.

It could be that there was a conspiracy involving Tusla; but while acknowledging that this affair has undermined confidence in his agency, chief executive Fred McBride reiterated to the Public Accounts Committee last week that he has no "knowledge, or evidence that Tusla staff acted with any malice of intent" regarding the false allegations against McCabe.

It may emerge that there is more to this than an appalling error, but thus far there is no evidence for that whatsoever, so in that sense the new narrative bears a troubling resemblance to what was done to Maurice McCabe.

As a whispering campaign was mounted against him, so a whispering campaign is in full flow against anyone involved with the Guards now or then or who dares to defend their reputation. "They're all in it together," goes the whisper.

See how this works?

One person has been entirely overlooked in all this, and that's the woman who, more than a decade ago, made the original allegation of inappropriate physical contact by Maurice McCabe when she was six years old. Now she has given an interview in which she describes the effect her involvement in this saga had on her, as well as expressing her own frustration with Tusla.

There was some disquiet expressed about the fact that she has surfaced at this point, with some even claiming that this was a further part of the whispering campaign against Sgt McCabe, designed to spread the feeling that there's "no smoke without fire".

That's understandable. McCabe has suffered horribly as a result of his decision to blow the whistle on his colleague's unethical behaviour. For this lurid aspect of the case to become the subject of further speculation must be distressing.

Equally, though, it's hard to know how any investigation into this sequence of events by the forthcoming Charleton Tribunal can be complete without her testimony being part of it.

In 2006, she did make an allegation about something that she claimed happened when she was six, and that had to be investigated further, because dismissing her story out of hand would have been wrong too; and while the Director of Public Prosecutions decided at the time not only that there should be no prosecution, but that what she was alleging might not even be an offence at all, it will still be raked over again in the tribunal.

She also did have subsequent meetings with counsellors in which, after prompting, she repeated the allegation, even if she at no point made the most damaging allegation of digital penetration.

That the second, false, allegation gained traction was entirely the fault of Tusla. Fred McBride acknowledged to the PAC that normal procedure when an allegation is made is to speak to the alleged perpetrator and alleged victim.

"That's part of our job, to try determine the veracity of that allegation," as he put it. That wasn't done in this case, meaning a false abuse claim was allowed to sit in the file unchallenged for far too long when it could have been quickly cleared up if proper procedure was followed.

How and why that happened is still to be determined, but the girl's interview did add some important details about her own involvement with Tusla, and she was explicit too about one of her main reasons for going public now, which is that she feels a counter-version of events is being propagated by the media to the effect that she made her complaint as a young teenager of what allegedly happened when she was six because McCabe was in dispute with her father, and that "it was your father who put you up to it".

She strongly refutes that rumour, in fact she calls it "horrific", and she has every right to do so, since she effectively stands accused by some of being part of a conspiracy against Sgt McCabe.

Read More: Fianna Fail adds pressure on O'Sullivan

There may have been a conspiracy against him, but she wants to assert strongly that she had no part in it and that her original allegation was a separate matter.

She has every right to speak for herself, not least when everyone else in political and media life has no compunctions about publicly adding to the febrile rumour mill.

The problem is that listening to her story now is being seen as taking sides against Maurice McCabe.

Journalist Mick Clifford in the Irish Examiner certainly seemed to be troubled by the interview, saying that it "raised more questions than it answered" and contained "apparent inconsistencies".

Clifford found it "strange", for instance, that the woman now claims she didn't want to revisit the incident when she had counselling in 2013 - only to subsequently tell journalist Paul Williams that she was unhappy with the earlier DPP decision, and later meet with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

It's possible to pick holes in her story, as in anyone's, but a person can want to put something behind them while still being unhappy with how it turned out. The impulses are not mutually exclusive, and, as Clifford himself said of the differences between her account and that of Maurice McCabe: "These will be teased out in the tribunal."

That has its first sitting tomorrow. Trusting it to throw light on this mess is preferable to pulling on the jersey of one team or another.

There are no teams, only human beings caught up in events beyond their control. We should listen sensitively to them all, rather than imposing convenient narratives of our own on their lives, because more damage is done by those who claim to know what's "really" going on than almost any other people.

Maurice McCabe discovered that, to his cost. It would be a tragedy to do the same to his detractors.

Sunday Independent

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