To be fair to Justice Peter Charleton, he pulled no punches in his final conclusions on the Disclosures Tribunal. For some, reputations were left damaged beyond repair; for others, exoneration – albeit regrettably too late – helped clear their names. And Mr Charleton showed that, in the forest of lies and mendacity thrown up by the tribunal, he was nobody’s fool.
It was a tribunal report that did not spare those whose obfuscations so sorely tested Judge Charleton’s patience. Former Commissioner Martin Callinan was shown up to be a vindictive manipulator. His sidekick, Supt Dave Taylor, was found by the tribunal to have sworn evidence that was ‘entirely made up of nothing but lies’. (Although Taylor’s reputed golden handshake of €100,000 should help ease the odium which the tribunal has piled on his head).
By contrast, Nóirín O’Sullivan and Frances Fitzgerald – the latter too late to save her political career – emerge with comparatively clean hands from the disgraceful plot to smear Maurice McCabe.
And then there is Tusla, the breathtaking incompetence of which has become a byword for all that is wrong with bumbling State agencies that lurch from one scandal to the next, and yet continue to operate without ever being challenged or having to live up to any standard of accountability. As an organisation, Tusla comes out of the tribunal far more damaged than An Garda Síochána, its staggering clumsiness and inept governance arguably setting off the train of events by its handling of the groundless allegation of child rape against Maurice McCabe, which led to the Tribunal.
It was a debacle confronted head on by Justice Charleton in his report. If Tusla had owned up to mistakenly reporting the accusation McCabe of rape to the Gardaí, there would never have been any need of the Tribunal, he summarised. There was, he found, a litany of errors by Tusla, culminating in a false rape allegation being reported to the Garda, which only happened because procedures within the agency were, in the Judge’s words, ‘chaotic’.
The credence given to that report, and its calamitous and toxic effect on all who came in contact with it, was not due in any way to any action by the Gardaí, but was because of ‘the astounding inefficiency of Tusla and the inertia of its management’.
But as if that alone were not damning enough, Charleton went on to slate Tusla for its slowness in responding to the public request for co-operation with the tribunal. Statements made by Tusla personnel were, he said, ‘laconic to the point of being mysterious’. The tribunal, he said, was obliged ‘to seek further information and identify possible witnesses who might cast light on matters, who had not yet revealed themselves’.
“This kind of holding back is bad enough for a private citizen, never mind a public body,” he said, demonstrating a weariness that suggests that the bell must be surely tolling for an agency whose abysmal record of incompetence and subterfuge is recognised as being unmatched in the public service.
In a valedictory letter two years ago to his parishioners in Moyross, that benighted Limerick enclave of dysfunction and rampant neglect, Fr Tony O’Riordan wrote that ‘if you are a vulnerable child in Ireland, it is a scandal to have to rely on the service provided by Tusla’.
Now based in Sudan, Fr O’Riordan was again moved to put pen to paper in the wake of the Charleton findings.
“What the Tribunal says about Tusla is but the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote. “How long can we allow this travesty to continue? Will anybody speak up for the families and children failed by Tusla over and over again.”