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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

When speaking out is near-impossible to do

Sgt Maurice McCabe: Senior members of An Garda Síochána tried to 'destroy' the whistleblower.

Why would you be a whistleblower in this country?
Why would you risk speaking out when you know chances are you will be targeted and your career jeopardised.
The toll on one’s well-being and their families can be immense, but a brave few have done just that. They have risked it all trying to right a wrong in their workplace.

Rather than be cherished, they are derided, isolated, and squashed.
Time and time again we have seen whistleblowers meet resistance and hostility from their superiors more concerned with protecting the primacy of the institution for which they work.
Just look at how senior members of An Garda Síochána tried to “destroy” whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
At the time, journalists like me and many others were told horrendous things about McCabe to try to make us question his credibility. He was dodgy, not to be listened to, we were told.
The then Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, summoned John McGuinness, then the chairman of the public accounts committee, to a meeting in a hotel car park just days before the PAC were to bring McCabe in before it in February 2014.
“The intention, I think, of the meeting was to suggest that he had question marks over him — I didn’t accept that,” McGuinness said at the time.
“What was related to me were so vile and disturbing that I did not want to relate it to Sgt McCabe, and I’d heard it before.”
McGuinness first spoke about his meeting with Callinan in a speech to the Dáil last May in which he described efforts to “discredit” McCabe as “absolutely appalling”.

The then garda commissioner Martin Callinan summoned PAC chairman John McGuinness to a meeting in a hotel carpark just days before Maurice McCabe was to appear before the committee ‘with the intention to suggest he had question marks over him’. Picture: Collins

“Every effort was made by those within the Garda Síochána at senior level to discredit Garda Maurice McCabe. The Garda commissioner confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him. The vile stories that circulated about Garda McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda Síochána were absolutely appalling,” he told the Dáil.
Last week, Conor Dignam’s report into the ‘Grace’ foster-home abuse scandal was published.
For those unfamiliar with the ‘Grace’ case, it involved a foster home in Waterford where young, mentally disabled boys and girls were subjected to the most horrendous sexual and physical abuse.

Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy, who, along with McGuinness, has been to the fore of uncovering this scandal, told the Dáil on Wednesday night of the scale of abuse: “I met two members of a local family in my office in Dungarvan in 2014. They told me that their daughter/sister ended up in the foster home for respite reasons.
“They discovered that their daughter/sister, who is not verbal, had been raped anally with implements over a prolonged period of time. All of this had been medically attested and confirmed. The young woman cannot be operated on today because so much damage was done that to do so would threaten perforation of her bowel, which might kill her. This is not Grace. This is another individual.”

Deasy referred to the fact that senior decision-makers involved in leaving ‘Grace’ in the foster home for 13 years — even after serious concerns about the home were raised — are still at their posts in the health service today. He said one of those is working at a senior level in Tusla, the State’s child-protection agency.
“One of the big issues is what, if anything, will happen to those responsible for leaving ‘Grace’ in the foster placement in the 1990s, those responsible for failing to act subsequently to protect her and others, and those responsible for attempting to cover up the HSE’s failings in this regard,” said Deasy.

Speaking during a debate on the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill, Deasy went on to detail the experience of the whistleblowers in the ‘Grace’ case. He detailed the rough treatment received by the whistleblower from the HSE and the incredible steps taken to try and destroy her credibility: “The whistleblower received a letter in July 2014 from the HSE’s authorised person informing her that the file related to her protected disclosure was ‘closed’. She had alleged that the HSE had covered up its failings with regard to 47 children and adults who had been left at risk.”

“The HSE launched two inquiries, neither of which investigated the allegations of a cover-up. The first inquiry was conducted by a former HSE official. The same person wrote the terms of reference for the second inquiry,” said Deasy.
“The whistleblower then personally petitioned the High Court. The HSE tried to stop her. It referred to the funding it gave to her organisation. It contacted the chairman of the board she worked for and put as much pressure as it could on the whistleblower.

“The HSE managers involved wrote letters, including several solicitor’s letters, to the whistle-blower’s manager, the board of directors, and the High Court. She claims these letters contained fabricated information alleging misconduct by her in the course of performing her duties.”
Deasy went on to make a most extraordinary statement: “This is important for every whistleblower now and in the future. What I am about to say is critical and must be dealt with in the interim before this inquiry happens. The letters to the High Court were drafted by HSE solicitors at the request of a HSE senior manager. They alleged serious misconduct and requested that, owing to this misconduct, the whistleblower be removed as a court-appointed representative for her client.

John Deasy: Senior decision makers involved in leaving ‘Grace’ in an abusive foster home for 13 years are still in their posts in the health service today.

“The letters suggested that the whistleblower was not a fit person to represent her client and, as a result, the HSE could not be expected to work with her,” Deasy told a virtually empty chamber.
I have seen a copy of the whistleblower’s protected disclosure and reported on it in this newspaper with my colleague Fiachra Ó Cionnaith during the week. It is a chilling read when it comes to how the system treated her.

It has emerged that another HSE manager has since provided the whistle-blower with a signed statement that the information contained in those letters had been fabricated. This whistleblower had to get legal advice and send solicitor’s letters on her own behalf in an effort to ensure she was not removed from her position. No protections were afforded her by the protected disclosures office in the HSE.
“According to the whistle-blower, the HSE manager who fabricated this information and sought to destroy her career has been promoted to a new post in Tusla. No disciplinary action has been taken against him,” said Deasy.

The whistleblower decided then to walk into a Garda station and make a new statement of complaint. Under existing statutes it is an offence if a person is left at risk of sexual abuse. It is not just an offence if the person suffers sexual abuse. The gardaí are now investigating whether the HSE recklessly endangered these people and left them at risk of sexual abuse.
The experience of these two whistleblowers is a chilling reminder of the risks you have to take if you are willing to speak out.

What is clear to me is that the introduction of the protected disclosures laws by then minister Brendan Howlin has been a hugely important advancement in terms of transparency in Ireland.

We must also remember those who have risked it all to speak out on behalf of others. I will simply say ‘thank you’.
Daniel McConnell