Belfast Telegraph

Fitzgerald defends call not to reveal baseless rape claim was at inquiry's core

The Tanaiste and Justice Minister has defended her decision not to reveal that a baseless rape allegation was at the core of the inquiry into a smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Frances Fitzgerald said she knew Children's Minister Katherine Zappone was meeting Sgt McCabe in January.

But she said that her cabinet colleague did not give her the details of "confidential" records in Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which revealed the damning chronology and content of an unfounded report of child abuse that was levelled against the whistleblower garda.

Ms Zappone, an Independent TD, said she alerted "relevant Government colleagues" to the affair but has refused to elaborate on who was told.

Questions have been asked over why the role of Tusla was not initially included in draft terms of reference for Judge Peter Charleton's inquiry into the peddling of unfounded sex abuse claims against Mr McCabe.

Ms Zappone said she always believed the agency's failings would be included in the inquiry.

Tusla confirmed the agency is apologising to Mr McCabe after what a counsellor called an "administrative error" led to an untrue claim of rape being included in a complaint file on the officer.

Ms Fitzgerald said she had taken care not to divulge details of the baseless allegations that Sgt McCabe faced.

"I have always been scrupulous to avoid any comment in the Dail on what was at issue in the criminal complaint against Sgt McCabe, referred to in the terms of reference," she said.

"Had I put into the public domain, anything which indicated or implied the nature of the complaint against Sgt McCabe, I would be rightly open to criticism."

Ms Fitzgerald said the terms of reference for Judge Charleton referred "specifically" to a complaint of criminal misconduct against Sgt McCabe and whether it was used against him.

Ms Zappone met the whistleblower and his wife on January 25 and in the following days her department was given a full chronology of the affair.

"Minister Zappone informed relevant Government colleagues during the course of this period," her spokesman said.

"Minister Zappone was always of the view that Tusla would form part of the investigation by the Commission of Inquiry."

Mr McCabe was subject to an unfounded and less serious abuse allegation in 2006 and found to have no case to answer. The same complainant made a second report in 2013 and a counsellor working for Tusla wrongly stated that it involved rape.

Labour's children's spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said: "T he Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald claimed she was not aware of any contact between An Garda Siochana and Tusla about Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

"If Minister Zappone briefed her Cabinet colleagues on the details, then the Tanaiste must now account for why she misled the Dail on this matter."

Mr McCabe's wife Lorraine contacted Health Minister Simon Harris' office about the Tusla affair on January 18.

The private secretary of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was asked to call Mrs McCabe and set up a meeting with Ms Zappone for January 25.

Mr McCabe and his wife set out the details of the entire affair at the meeting, their solicitor Sean Costello said.

Fianna Fail's children's spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte added: " Did the Minister for Children contact the Minister for Justice when she became aware of this grave error?"

"We now know that Minister Zappone met with Sergeant McCabe two weeks ago - why was this meeting not included in the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation that was announced this week?"

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