Disclosures Tribunal report: Summary of the findings

Sgt Maurice McCabe and his wife Lorraine at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

‘A cultural shift requiring respect for the truth is needed’ among senior gardaí

Cormac O’Keeffe, Security Correspondent

Mr Justice Peter Charleton said he remains “deeply concerned” that the gradual erosion of Garda discipline, as identified by the Morris Tribunal more than 12 years ago, could lead to disaster.

He warned that a country with an undisciplined police force is “at risk” from that police force.

In his recommendations, he said that failure to restore accountability and the Garda command structure, including appropriate structures for discipline, would “do Ireland no service”.

He said the organisation should be able to “look at itself honestly” and identify its own faults.

The tribunal said while police have unconsciously stood up for each other, they had a greater duty to the public. “That lesson badly needs to be learned by our police force.”

Referring to senior officers, it said: “A cultural shift requiring respect for the truth is needed.”

The judge said the tribunal was much taken with sergeants and inspectors from the Donegal division — who investigated allegations involving Garda Keith Harrison — who showed “intelligence, diligence, and serious-mindedness”.

He said findings in his report must be “dispiriting” for gardaí like them and said they are “crying out for leadership”.

He called for a “proper promotion system” but said it is up to others to implement concrete reforms.

Mr Justice Charleton listed seven obligations on all gardaí.

The first obligation is to take pride in their work and in their uniform.

He noted 88 members had lost their lives and said that many gardaí who gave evidence showed a “keen intelligence and application to duty”. He said these individuals should be “held up as exemplars”.

The second obligation is to “always be honest”, which would mean that those who rise through the ranks have the respect of those they command.

He said the third obligation is “to be visible”, contrasting the situation to many European cities, where, he said, police are visible. “The extraordinary aspect of our police force is that they keep themselves isolated in police stations and then transport themselves around in squad cars.

“It is extraordinarily rare that gardaí are seen in uniform on the streets. This is not a small matter. If it is said that gardaí are too busy to be out on foot or on bicycles, the tribunal begs to doubt that. Everyone serving in the police should give a portion of the day to foot and bicycle patrols.”

The fourth obligation of public servants, especially the gardaí, is to be “polite”, saying the tribunal has read many files of complaints against gardaí.

The fifth obligation is “to serve the people of Ireland”. It states: “Diligence and application to duty are expected of all: Not moaning.”

The sixth obligation is for the organisation to treat its obligation to the public as superior to sticking up for each other.

“An Garda Síochána must become a place where incompetence is not covered up, where laziness is called to account, and where people respect their senior officers,” states the report.

The seventh obligation is self-analysis. He said the organisation must be able to conduct a preliminary and thorough analysis of issues that arise.

Mr Justice Charleton said senior officers “ultimately” have responsibility and added: “What has been missing in the past is the command structure of An Garda Síochána calling itself to account.”

He said it followed from all of this that there was an obligation of gardaí “to be a disciplined force”.

He said that, as Justice Morris commented 12 or more years ago, it was “far too difficult” to dispense with gardaí who are unsuited to police work or who are just not prepared to work.

The judge said those subject to ill-discipline should be subject to correction by senior officers without the need to resort to elaborate structures akin to a murder trial.

A template for Tusla that shows how not to act

Noel Baker, Social Affairs Correspondent

Few escape a tongue-lashing from Mr Justice Charleton, but Tusla is subject to some choice epithets and the ultimate putdown. Were it not for Tusla’s inability to quickly own up to its errors and apologise, he writes, there might have been no need for a tribunal at all.

It is a damning depiction of the manner in which Tusla operated, and one the Child and Family Agency has spent a lot of time apologising for and seeking to amend. Yesterday, Tusla reiterated its apology to Maurice McCabe and his family in light of a report that does not spare the rod.

The mishandling began on the HSE’s watch, before the “hideous coincidence” in 2013 that resulted in Laura Brophy of the Rian counselling service wrongly linking an entirely separate rape allegation with the utterly unfounded claims against Maurice McCabe made by Ms D. That genuine mistake was then “compounded” by other social workers, including the decision to open intake records on two of Maurice McCabe’s adult children. Charleton writes of this “shocking administrative incompetence”, of a cascade of “error upon error” that left the Tribunal “utterly dispirited”.

By May 2014, “Laura Brophy was entitled to believe that she had corrected the error”. Efforts were made to retrieve from the gardaí all incorrect copies of the referral and Tusla was to send back any erroneous documents. It did send back the incorrect Brophy report but the erroneous garda notification prepared by a social worker, Laura Connolly, remained on the Tusla file “in a kind of nuclear half-life that had later damaging consequences”.

The disconnected nature of the service and the lack of communication is, at times, mind-boggling. At a different stage of the report, Charleton writes about gossip and how once it spreads, “like feathers blown on the wind, they can never be recovered”. The errors floated about in the same way. Laura Brophy did her very best to stop “a chain of error cascading through the Tusla system”, but “through no fault of her own, she failed”.

Later, Charleton sums up: “Within Tusla, speaking collectively, those responsible for the series of errors that led to a direct accusation against Maurice McCabe of a rape offence knew: firstly, that he had never been accused of a rape offence by anyone; secondly, that a word processing error had led to an erroneously attributed accusation being recorded in a written file; thirdly, that this error had been passed on to the gardaí; fourthly, that when the error was identified, a correction and retraction were sent to the gardaí; fifthly, that this mistaken attribution remained on the Tusla file as two mutually inconsistent reports to gardaí; sixthly, that within Tusla there were senior personnel who knew or ought to have known of the origin and mistaken nature of these two inconsistent reports but did not share that information at an appropriate time; and, seventhly, that multiple failures to read the file fully resulted in the letter of December 29, 2015.”

The Tusla letter wrongly accusing Maurice McCabe was opened by his wife in January 2016. That this was ultimately an omnishambles rather than a conspiracy is readily apparent. To read the extraordinary jumble of errors from pages 96 to 101 of the report is sobering and Charleton attributes the wreckage to “the chaotic nature of the systems involved”.

Even after all this, “Tusla were slow to respond to the public request for co-operation by the tribunal. Statements made were laconic to the point of being mysterious.” The report refers to Tusla’s “subsequent failure to face up to and admit its considerable failings and stupidities” and argues that if the CFA had explained the initial template error and subsequent blunders, “there would have been some kind of investigation but probably not a tribunal of inquiry”.

Yesterday, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she was “extremely disappointed to note that the tribunal found Tusla slow to respond to the public request for co-operation”, but stressed that things are changing for the better.

In its early pages of the report, Charleton refers to the random allocation of child referral files and how “this cannot be dignified by calling it a system”.

It is a withering critique and in some ways, a new template for Tusla — one that shows exactly how not to do things.

Journalists criticised for ‘frustrating and delaying’ tribunal

Caroline O’Doherty

Sgt Maurice McCabe

The tribunal had “the greatest difficulty” getting information from journalists while investigating claims that attempts were made to use them to spread lies about Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Judge Charleton said many delayed in responding to the tribunal’s correspondence, some only co-operated at the last minute, and others refused to answer questions on the grounds of journalistic privilege and protection of sources.

At the same time, Judge Charleton said he believed most of the journalists named by former Garda press officer David Taylor as conduits for his supposed media campaign against Sgt McCabe were never actually negatively briefed by Supt Taylor, and no negative reporting emerged.

He said: “It is important to immediately note that no newspaper or media outlet ever traduced the character of Maurice McCabe in consequence of any communication from Superintendent Taylor, or indeed at all.

“No-one in print or on radio, on television or on internet sites ever said either that Maurice McCabe had abused a child or that he was a bitter man with hidden agendas in consequence of being investigated by his colleagues due to an allegation made against him in December 2006 of what was then claimed to be historic abuse.”

Supt Taylor initially said he had negatively briefed nine journalists, but the list grew to 11 when the tribunal’s own inquiries found two others who had been in contact with him, and then to 12 when another journalist came forward. Eleven out of the 12 told the tribunal they had heard rumours about Sgt McCabe but none said Supt Taylor was the source. One, John Burke from RTÉ’s This Week programme, said he had never heard the rumours at all.

Three Irish Examiner journalists, crime correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe, political editor Daniel McConnell, and political correspondent Juno McEnroe, refused to answer questions relating to Supt Taylor, citing journalistic privilege.

Judge Charleton said: “The tribunal, while grateful to those journalists who eventually co-operated with it, regards the delay in providing that co-operation as regrettable and as a frustration of the public will, as expressed by the terms of reference set by the Oireachtas, that a tribunal of enquiry should do its work quickly.

“Ultimately three journalists from the Irish Examiner, Cormac O’Keeffe, Juno McEnroe, and Daniel McConnell, refused to give evidence to the tribunal about the content of their dealings with Superintendent Taylor. This, obviously, and without justification, frustrated the work of the tribunal.”

Judge Charleton said he did not agree that journalistic privilege was an issue, particularly as Supt Taylor had waived it. However, he added that he regarded it as “unlikely” that the journalists who claimed privilege were the source of any crucial evidence.

He accepted the evidence of the other journalists —John Mooney, Sunday Times; Conor Lally, Irish Times; Paul Reynolds and John Burke, RTÉ; Michael O’Toole, Irish Daily Star, and Cathal McMahon, Irish Daily Mirror — that Supt Taylor did not brief them negatively.

He did not accept similar evidence from Eavan Murray, Irish Sun, and Debbie McCann, Irish Mail On Sunday, as both had tried to interview the alleged abuse victim, although neither wrote anything about it.

They were “committed journalists who were looking for news [who] were very unfortunate to have come within the orbit of Superintendent David Taylor”.

The tribunal also examined a broadcast by RTÉ crime correspondent Paul Reynolds in which he reported on leaked findings of the O’Higgins Commission. The broadcast emphasised that the commission took issue with some of Sgt McCabe’s assertions, although it found him overall to be credible. Judge Charleton said Mr Reynolds had reported this honestly. “In no sense was he a tool of the higher echelons of Garda Headquarters.”

A series of articles written for the Irish Independent by Paul Williams was also examined as these were the only ones that mentioned the allegation of child abuse against a serving garda, although they did not name Sgt McCabe. Judge Charleton accepted that Mr Williams heard the allegations independently of Supt Taylor and only contacted Supt Taylor for an official response.

The tribunal had “the greatest difficulty” getting information from journalists while investigating claims that attempts were made to use them to spread lies about Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Public service bosses must wake up and shape up, says judge

Caroline O’Doherty

Judge Charleton pulls no punches on what he says needs to happen in the wake of the tribunal, particularly within Tusla and An Garda Síochána.

He says both agencies must adopt a new attitude where they are willing to recognise their failings and weaknesses and do something about them. “Regrettably, neither Tusla nor the Garda organisation currently displays that mentality,” he says.

On Tusla, he says: “It is clear that management needs to wake up and actually do a day of work.” On the Gardaí, he says: “They need a complete turn-around in their attitude. This has to be led from senior management.”

Judge Charleton refers repeatedly to the 2006 Morris Tribunal report into Garda corruption in Donegal and his frustration that the problems highlighted then have not been rectified.

He calls for effective disciplinary and dismissal procedures, noting that Morris found “it is far too difficult to dispense with the services of those who are unsuited to police work or who are just not prepared to work”. “That remains a concern of this tribunal,” he says.

He urges an overhaul of the promotions system within the force so that the people with the right abilities and attitude rise through the ranks. “The tribunal does not have to spell it out beyond a requirement that the promotions system should be freed from whatever ties it to not always promoting excellence.”

Judge Charleton also calls for an examination of the way the Garda press office is staffed and run, saying that appointments must be properly made and press officers properly trained.

“Since the post [of office head] is key, it should no longer be seen as within the domain of choice of the head of our police force. At a minimum, the Garda press officer should be someone who undertakes relevant training. Experience of working in the press office should be regarded as useful for the job of directing it. Even more than that, an honest person is required.”

He also notes that the practice of the press office and Garda HQ of speaking off the record on matters of public importance instead of doing so openly “obliges the media to assert privilege”. “Surely, the police force should be transparent, speaking accountably when necessary, acting transparently, save where there is a need for the proper completion of an investigation, and holding to silence where the overriding aim of duty to the victims of crime requires.”

He also urges dispensing with “public relations speak as a substitute for plain speaking” within the Gardaí and the public service generally. “It is frankly bizarre that when the Garda Commissioner is asked about her approach to a matter of serious public importance, she is not left alone to answer from her own mind but instead that comments and suggestions amounting to drafts of letters of several thousand words are whizzed over in her direction.”

Judge Charleton also suggests the Oireachtas revisit the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act to see if it requires further regulation to ensure that disclosures are not leaked to journalists and politicians as happened in matters before the tribunal.

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