Monday 13 February 2017

Stitch up

This is mainly written for my French readers, so that they can imagine for 10 seconds that the same sort of insiderism doesn't happen in La Belle France. It's such a huge story here in Ireland that we haven't heard about Donald Trump for week, but I doubt if it will get much traction in Toulouse or Toulon.

Three years ago, I gave an executive summary of the story of Maurice McCabe a Sergeant in the Gardai who didn't approve of his colleagues cleaning the slates for their friends&relations. It was, at the time, routine for gardai to erase motoring penalty points from the police computer system. It was probably seen as a victimless crime: sure what harm if my nephew isn't fined €80 for going 10km/h over the limit? Sure no harm at all until the same nephew ploughs into a couple of children walking to school. That's why we have penalty points, to give a reminder that speed limits are a public good even if we all think of them as a private pain-in-the-arse. Nobody was grateful to Sgt McCabe - not his colleagues, not his line-manager, not the head of the gardai, not the Minister of Justice. Probably not even General Public a soldier famous for using the Network to wrangle a favour. Ireland is a small country with about 2 degrees of separation.

Just a small example of that: about a month ago the Minister of Education Richard Bruton [prev] came to open our new Admin and Teaching building which includes <snark alert> a penthouse office suite for our President. It was good to see him in the flesh because it was nearly 18 years since we'd last met. Back then we set up the Home Education Network because we were worried that new legislation to deal with truancy would impinge on our constitutional right to educate our kids at home . . . OR would force us to have school-at-home with lesson-plans, written syllabus, learning outcomes, deliverables, a school-bell and 40 minute lessons.  In 2000 I was delegated to phone the opposition Minister of Education, one Richard Bruton and younger brother of just previous Taoiseach (1994-1997) John Bruton. ANNyway, I found his number in the phone book, dialed in and said "Could I speak to Richard Bruton?" "Speaking", came the reply. I fell off my chair! I assumed that he'd have a staff or at least a secretary or PA to screen his calls. He was happy to meet a small delegation of us tree-huggin', rice-cake eatin', Birkenstock wearin' oddities in the Dáil. And it was so: he listened with attention, he wasn't stupid and he gave us to believe that our case was safe in his hands. Of course he was mainly looking for ammunition to lob across the floor of the house at the real Minister of Education but he also wanted to be kind and seen to be effective. That's how and why articulate, middle-class, O'White folks can (or used to be able to?) get their penalty points quashed. You more or less just have to ask the right bloke. Being articulate, middle-class, and tanned isn't enough.

Maurice McCabe is in the news again this last week. The timeline is here [be careful the Irish Times has strict limits on reading their content for free]. This story will run and run until The Man is prepared to listen to awkward whistle-blowers rather than rushing to shut t'buggers up. Seems that in 2006 McCabe may have hugged, tickled or in some way behaved inappropriately with a child who was on a play date with his family. The father of that child, another garda, had been subject to disciplinary proceedings on foot of a complaint made by McCabe. These two events are treated as related. The allegation of child abuse was investigated and deemed to have no grounds for prosecution. Depending on your preconceptions you may think "no smoke without fire" or with my Dad that outing paedophilia is getting to be a game that everyone can play on the neighbours or in their own heads. In 2013, seven years later, Tusla the child-protection agency was informed of the allegation of child sex abuse by a worker in the Health Service Executive HSE. The cuddles & tickles of 2006 have been transformed into something much worse. The report circulates [where? how far? how many knowing smirks?] for two years until December 2015 before McCabe is informed of the allegation. In June 2016 Tusla admits that it cut and pasted their 2013 report to sex it up as a clerical error. Six months later they decide to apologize to McCabe, a month after that the apology is delivered to McCabe's neighbour (!). You couldn't make it up. People here are comparing it to the GUBU scandal of 1982 (*) when a murderer on the run was discovered hiding out in the home of the Attorney General.  As talking-head Fintan O'Toole writes - the story of this stitch-up of a public servant is either appalling [incompetence, stupid error, lack of oversight, poor judgement etc.] or chilling [your life can be destroyed on the whim of your manager]. What do all the managers do when they're not thinking about who to play golf with this weekend?

One of the seepiest aspects of the whole sorry story is that opposition politicians like Brendan Howlin Lab. and Marylou McDonald SF have been leading the pack with self-righteous innuendo. Howlin used Dáil privilege to out the Minister of Justice and also out McCabe's sexual misconduct allegation. "Are any other state agencies involved in the smear campaign against Maurice McCabe" asked McDonald in the Dáil to indicate that she knew about Tusla and the HSE before the shit hit the public-domain fan. And perhaps the key "and if a wolf did come out of the forest, what then?" [it's a Prokofiev reference used previously] question to ask is: Does a paedophilia rap - even if true - mean that everything you said about dubious and dangerous practice in the Gardai becomes unbelievable? Yes and not only in Gubuland.
(*) grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented

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