Sunday 17 December 2017

HSE and Harris just add to the confusion of how McCabe claim error was discovered

Health Minister Simon Harris said the error was discovered in 2014. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Health Minister Simon Harris said the error was discovered in 2014. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

There are questions about how the allegation of serious sexual abuse against Sgt Maurice McCabe - which was wrongly recorded by a HSE counsellor - was discovered to be a clerical error months later.

The HSE counsellor had made the allegation to social services in 2013 after counselling a young woman who had been at the centre of an allegation of abuse by Sgt McCabe in 2006 as a child. That allegation that she was tickled inappropriately at a birthday party was investigated and dismissed by the DPP.

The counsellor, who had one session of therapy with the woman, made a clerical error in submitting the serious allegation in 2013, variously described as a "cut and paste blunder" or a "failure to delete".

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil last week that this error was discovered in 2014 after the counsellor was contacted by the young woman. But this is disputed by the woman's solicitors.

The HSE added to the confusion yesterday saying that it was now a matter for the tribunal of inquiry that would investigate the McCabe controversy.

A spokesman said that "the HSE is currently in the process of undertaking a comprehensive internal review of relevant records. Until this review is completed, it would be inappropriate to provide a response."

The tribunal will have to look at the extent of the contacts between the HSE counsellor, social services - which were still in a state of transfer between the HSE and the soon-to-be legally established Tusla - and gardaí.

A memo from June 2014, which was in a Tusla file given to the McCabes, refers to the superintendent in the jurisdiction not being aware of the clerical error and being "asked to a meeting with the commissioner in relation to the case".

Throughout this time - from the point in 2013 when the wrong allegation was first made by the HSE counsellor to December 2015 - Sgt McCabe was unaware of the wrong information that was being shared at high level.

It was not until December 29, 2015, that he was first told he was being investigated for sex abuse. He had to wait until June 20, 2016, to be told a mistake was made.

The onus was on social services to instigate an investigation as soon as possible after the first false allegation was made in 2013 to determine the risk to children.

Under Children First Guidelines, a counsellor who is disclosed an allegation of retrospective sexual abuse by an adult client is obliged to report it to social services if they feel there is a potential current risk to children. Although it is good practice to tell the client this report is being done, there is no onus on the counsellor to share the information.

The young woman at the centre of this case is understood to have said she was unaware any report was being made in 2013.

Tusla, which was given legal status and its own budget from 2014, has already admitted it failed in the manner in which it processed the case.

A spokeswoman told the Irish Independent that its role was not to investigate the veracity of allegations, but rather to assess referrals received to establish whether a child has been, is or may in the future, abused or at risk or abuse.

Tusla said it was faced with ongoing challenges in recruiting social workers.

In 2016, Tusla ran a national social work graduate recruitment campaign to combat this and will go on in drive to Northern Ireland and the UK to fill posts this year.

Irish Independent

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