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McCabe's name was 'blackened'... but what now that the smear campaign claims aren't backed up?

It’s not looking as bad as it did for Martin Callinan, but he still has questions to answer this week at Dublin Castle.

Clockwise from top left: David Taylor, Nóirín O'Sullivan, Martin Callinan and Maurice McCabe
Clockwise from top left: David Taylor, Nóirín O'Sullivan, Martin Callinan and Maurice McCabe

WE’VE BEEN HEARING about a smear campaign against Maurice McCabe for a long, long time.

That narrative of a campaign being run against the whistleblower by the top brass of An Garda Síochána has been emphasised time and time again by politicians and in media commentary.

His name was “blackened”. He was “smeared”. He was accused of being a “kiddie fiddler”.

But when no one else backs up the account of the man who says he was doing the smearing, what’s left?

Unfortunately for Martin Callinan, there are still an awful lot of questions he will need to answer as he begins another week of evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal today.

The evolution of David Taylor

The words “opportunity” and “opportunist” echoed around the halls of Dublin Castle this week.

No matter how he was asked, whatever detail was trying to be teased out, Superintendent David Taylor insisted he couldn’t provide any further clarity as to when and where he briefed journalists negatively about Maurice McCabe.

The common refrain from Taylor was “opportunities were opportunist” and he would seize them whenever he had the chance. As a result, he said he couldn’t say when he told the journalists he says he told about McCabe being “driven by revenge”.

Pressed, probed and questioned at length for three-and-a-half days at the Disclosures Tribunal, the former head of the Garda Press Office couldn’t elaborate further on how he smeared McCabe – other than he did it all verbally and at the behest of then-Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

This was meant to be a counter-punch, a counter-measure to the furore McCabe was creating over misuse and malpractice within the penalty points system from mid-2013 to early-2014. This was meant to plant doubt in the minds of journalists, make them wonder if there’s “something else here”.

That narrative of a smear campaign against Maurice McCabe was not directly backed up by anyone else and when it came to the crucial junctures, Taylor was found lacking in crucial details.

At the time, he said he didn’t think what he was doing was wrong. He respected Martin Callinan. Felt he was doing a good job. And, when Callinan came to him and told him that McCabe was motivated by revenge and that’s what was driving him to make complaints against the gardaí, Taylor did not doubt that was the case.

Taylor said he told RTÉ journalist Paul Reynolds that McCabe was driven by revenge against the gardaí over an allegation of sexual abuse was made against him by the daughter of a colleague in 2006.

When did he tell Reynolds? Taylor couldn’t say.

Where did he tell Reynolds? He couldn’t say that either.

What was the journalist’s reaction? Taylor said he “accepted the information” and “took it on board”.

Did Reynolds ask any follow-up questions after he told him this? No was the answer.

What does Reynolds say about all of this? Here’s what he’s said in a statement to the Tribunal: “I was not negatively briefed by anyone in relation to Sergeant McCabe verbally, by text, email or other form of communication.”

That’s an unequivocal denial from the RTÉ journalist. His colleague at the broadcaster, John Burke, is a similar story. Taylor couldn’t say when or where he gave Burke the negative McCabe briefing.

At this point in proceedings on his first day of evidence, Mr Justice Peter Charleton interjected to try to elicit from Taylor any further detail that could lend weight to his account, anything else that could corroborate his story.

some detail please Source: Disclosures Tribunal

Again Taylor couldn’t. He said: “I cannot, Mr Chairman, give you a specific date… I did not keep a contemporaneous note as to when exactly I did, because it was reactive, it was on the hoof.”

And so it went. The journalists named by Taylor either denied ever being told by him or any other garda about a smear campaign, or they claimed journalistic privilege. Either way, Taylor’s account wasn’t backed up.

The superintendent has said that the smear campaign stopped when Martin Callinan resigned in March 2014. From there, things began to wrong for Taylor.

He was moved out of his position in the press office by now-Acting Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in June 2014. Instead of a promotion, he was “moved sideways” into the traffic corps.

In May 2015, he was arrested on suspicion leaking confidential information to the press. And O’Sullivan’s husband Jim McGowan was one of the officers responsible for investigating the claims.

It is Martin Callinan’s assertion that Taylor came to visit him after his arrest, and told him that he had a “grudge” against O’Sullivan for how he was treated and wanted to “bring her down” – although Taylor denies this.

He was suspended following his arrest, and didn’t return to duties until February 2017.

It was during the summer of 2016 that Taylor said there was an “evolution” in his thoughts on the smear campaign, and he slowly began to realise that what he had done was wrong.

He said that he told his wife, and a priest, about it before telling Maurice McCabe in his home. He made a protected disclosure with the allegations after telling McCabe details of the smear campaign in September 2016.

But there are problems there too.

Clifford and McCabe have said that Taylor intimated to them the smear campaign involved the sending of text messages to journalists with the negative briefings about McCabe. Taylor denies this, and says he did it all verbally.

He met John McGuinness, who has also made a statement saying the smear was conducted by text. Taylor has denied this too. It’s Taylor’s assertion that he instead sent texts regularly to Callinan and O’Sullivan informing them of McCabe-related matters.

But, not all of the relevant phones have been recovered and, of the ones that have, no evidence has been found to support his assertion.

All of this added up to a sustained attack on Taylor from counsel for Callinan and O’Sullivan during cross-examination, accusing him of telling a “load of lies” to try to further his own interests.

Not out of the woods

However, despite a lack of corroboration to the claims that he ordered a smear campaign, Martin Callinan still has some questions to answer.

There are a still a number of individuals who allege that he told them negative things about McCabe, ranging from mere warnings to calling him a “kiddie fiddler”.

He was eased into it on his first day of testimony at the Disclosures Tribunal, with Tribunal counsel not going straight to the most serious of allegations.

One important one is the claims of RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes. His claim is that, prior to the airing of the Christmas edition of Crimecall in December 2013, he talked to Callinan in a corridor in the studio.

He wanted the commissioner to face questions about the penalty points scandal, but Callinan wasn’t budging. It’s then that, unprompted, he claims Callinan launched into an extraordinary pronouncement:

Callinan completely denied Boucher-Hayes’ claims. When asked if the journalist could have misconstrued what was being said and if the two accounts could be reconciled, Callinan said that they couldn’t.

The former commissioner has said he accepts that the various people claiming he said negative things about McCabe to are independent of each other. As well as the RTÉ journalist, we have a Fine Gael TD, a Fianna Fáil TD, the Comptroller and Auditor General and a well-known solicitor making claims ranging in seriousness.

On Friday, Callinan said he disagreed with the evidence of solicitor Gerald Kean, who has previously told the Tribunal the former commissioner told him that McCabe had “not cooperated in any shape or form” with an internal garda inquiry into penalty points.

Kean also said: “I believe in hindsight that he [Callinan] used me to promote a position that supported his stance in the matter and that in my opinion was incorrect, and I ended up in the firing line.”

Callinan rejected that assertion, saying there was nothing he said to Kean to “personalise matters” about McCabe and that “if he had stuck to the replies [Callinan] gave him, he might have been in a different position”.

It’s already the assertion of Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy that Callinan told him about the 2006 sexual abuse allegation against McCabe and said the whistleblower was not to be trusted.

We’ve also had Fine Gael TD John Deasy testifying that Callinan warned him about McCabe and, most crucially of all, we’ve had former PAC chairman John McGuinness’ evidence.

The Fianna Fáil TD has alleged that after the infamous PAC hearing in January 2014 where Callinan made the “disgusting” comment in reference to the actions of whistleblowers, he was speaking to Callinan afterwards.

He has told the Tribunal that Callinan made a comment about a man who “fiddles with kids”, that he took to refer to McCabe. This has been backed up by Taylor who said he heard Callinan say it to McGuinness.

Furthermore, the very next day McGuinness met Callinan at the garda’s request in a hotel car park. And here’s what he said Callinan told him: “He [McCabe] had sexually abused family and an individual, he was not to be trusted, I had made a grave error in relation to PAC because of this. I could find myself in serious trouble.”

McGuinness said that Callinan indicated that there was a “file” on McCabe and that he would be facing criminal charges over such allegations. McCabe has never been subject to any criminal charges that McGuinness said were referred to. In fact, he was completely exonerated of that 2006 sexual abuse allegation.

Callinan, for his part, is expected to deny all of the claims put to him. He’s already said he has a “clear recollection” of all these conversations.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton has been asked to look at, among a number of things, Taylor’s protected disclosure and also investigate if Callinan and/or O’Sullivan acted on the 2006 allegation of sexual abuse to discredit McCabe.

Even if some of the claims against the former commissioner aren’t backed up, he still has plenty of questions to answer this week.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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