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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
disclosures tribunal

He said, he said: The 'blackening' of Maurice McCabe? Or the smear campaign that never existed?

It was the final, and most crucial, module at the Disclosures Tribunal. Here’s what happened.

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The Disclosures Tribunal has now finished its witnesses, after almost 100 days of hearings. Over the course of the last 12 months it heard evidence on four modules, with this one running from March to June 2018.

THE MODULE ABOUT the alleged smear campaign against Maurice McCabe is by far the most pivotal in the whole Disclosures Tribunal.

The narrative of McCabe being “blackened” and “ruined” by An Garda Síochána has woven its way into public consciousness, but that narrative was put to the test over the course of 37 days of witness testimony at Dublin Castle, the longest of any module of the Tribunal.

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On one side, we have a garda superintendent who says he was ordered to carry out a smear campaign against Maurice McCabe on the orders of the garda commissioner.

On another side, we have a strenuous denial of this from the former commissioner.

Then we have the journalists, who were apparently the recipients of this smear campaign, who largely deny ever being given these negative briefings by the superintendent.

We have a number of largely unconnected individuals saying the commissioner told them absolutely foul things about McCabe.

And then, in the ether, we have nasty rumours swirling around about Maurice McCabe that are heard far and wide in political and media circles.

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Mr Justice Peter Charleton is faced with the task of trying to piece together the truth from directly conflicting accounts from so many people in this case. Let’s break it all down, and start with Superintendent Dave Taylor.

The problems with David Taylor

0022 David Taylor_90544859 Leah Farrell / Dave Taylor Leah Farrell / /

Dave Taylor was promoted to the rank of superintendent and made head of the garda press office in July 2012.

He didn’t have much of a background in the media side of An Garda Síochána prior to this, having served in Internal Affairs and in Garda HQ Crime and Security before the press office.

Nonetheless, it was a role he relished. It was also a role that happened to coincide with Maurice McCabe’s initial whistleblowing into the garda penalty points scandal, where fixed charge penalty notices would be cancelled, often incorrectly.

It made its way into the papers – via journalist Gemma O’Doherty in the Irish Independent in April 2013 – that even Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had had penalty points wiped.

At the same time, McCabe’s claims were getting a wide airing from politicians and the media.

Sometime in the summer/autumn of 2013, Taylor said he was told by Callinan to contact members of the media and begin to “do down” McCabe in his interactions with journalists. And Taylor said he did what he was told to do by his boss.

As for how he went about it, the common refrain from the superintendent during his evidence to the Tribunal was “opportunities were opportunist” and he would seize them whenever he had the chance.

He would say McCabe was whistleblowing against the gardaí because “driven by revenge”, over a 2006 allegation of sexual abuse made against him by the daughter of a colleague. Taylor said he’d emphasise that a file had been sent to the DPP, and no charges were brought.

This was meant to be a counter-punch, Taylor alleged, 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”.

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 said he did not doubt that was the case.

Not backed up

But it’s not that simple.

Taylor’s case is that he ran the smear campaign exclusively in person, when he’d come across journalists at crime scenes or at press conferences. He said he didn’t do it by text – and this is directly at odds with what Maurice McCabe said Taylor told him many years later during a dramatic meeting in September 2016.

There are no phone records to back up what he’s saying happened.

Furthermore, the journalists that Taylor has said he’s briefed haven’t backed up his account. Some have categorically denied getting a negative briefing about McCabe from him, while others have sought to claim journalistic privilege in this regard.

And, when probed about the details behind when he told individual journalists that McCabe had had a sexual abuse allegation made against him and was “driven by revenge”, Taylor was unable to provide many further details to the Tribunal.

He couldn’t say where he told a journalist the stuff about McCabe. He couldn’t say when. He couldn’t say what their reaction was. He said they didn’t ask any follow-up questions to what he was telling them.

At one stage of his evidence, Mr Justice 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.

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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. When it came to many of the individual journalists giving evidence, some of them were very strong in their dismissal of what Taylor had allegedly told them.

Both the Irish Times’ Conor Lally and RTÉ’s Paul Reynolds were among them. Both denied they were briefed negatively about McCabe by Taylor.

Lally said Taylor’s account was a “total fantasy” while Reynolds said it “just didn’t make sense”. Lally pointed out: “He can’t say where it happened, when it happened… He has absolutely no evidence whatsoever. It just didn’t happen… Taylor has put in a protected disclosure that led to the creation of the Tribunal and he can’t remember any of this.”

9386 Conor Lally_90546677 Leah Farrell / Conor Lally Leah Farrell / /

Again, though, that’s not the whole story.

Some journalists attempted to secure interviews with Ms D – the woman who’d made the allegation against McCabe in 2006 – but they didn’t say they originally heard the information from Taylor.

And some journalists refused to disclose whether or not Taylor briefed them, claiming privilege in a number of matters.

Of course, Callinan has strenuously denied Taylor’s claims. As has Nóirín O’Sullivan, who Taylor said was fully briefed and kept up to date on it.

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 of 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.

File Photo Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe has told the Disclosures Tribunal that former garda commissioner Martin Callinan told Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness that Sgt McCabe had abused his own children and his nieces, and was not to be trus Laura Hutton / Laura Hutton / /

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 TD, 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.

The case against Martin Callinan

The account of the smear campaign from Taylor may be problematic, but it doesn’t end there.

Martin Callinan denies directing this so-called campaign and he also denies the direct evidence from four others who’ve said that he said negative things about Maurice McCabe to them in December 2013 and January 2014.

Callinan appears before committee PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

This was at the height of the penalty points scandal, and just months before Callinan would resign from his position as commissioner.

What they say Callinan said, and what Callinan says he said, simply cannot be reconciled.

And what did they say Callinan said? Here’s a breakdown:

Philip Boucher-Hayes

As is customary for the commissioner, Callinan was due to appear in the Christmas edition of RTÉ’s Crimecall in December 2013. This programme was co-hosted by Philip Boucher-Hayes and Grainne Seoige.

Garda officials had a list of questions they wanted Callinan to address in the show, but the presenters and RTÉ weren’t having any of it. They wanted to ask about topical issues like penalty points – which McCabe had helped bring to light.

This is how Boucher-Hayes described the situation before gardaí arrived: “They presented us with a list of questions which was frankly completely unheard of… Some of the questions were so far removed from public interest, it was comical.”

Through crossed wires, Boucher-Hayes said that it was the gardaí’s belief when they arrived at the studio that evening that he and co-host Gráinne Seoige would ask the prescribed questions.

When he saw Callinan, Boucher-Hayes said he made a “beeline” for him, and walked along a corridor to have a private chat.

The journalist said that the commissioner introduced the name of Maurice McCabe into the conversation, and began disparaging him.

He said Callinan told him McCabe had “well-known issues”, “psychiatric issues”, “psychological issues”. Boucher-Hayes said Callinan also said that McCabe had done “horrific things… the worst kind of things”, but didn’t go into further detail.

He added that Callinan closed the conversation by saying to him that if he wanted to know more, he should ask David Taylor.

Asked for his reaction, Boucher-Hayes said: “I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt it was a smokescreen that was being deflected on the penalty points issue. I knew there was no suggestion of either murder or genocide… I assumed it was child sexual abuse or rape, perhaps.”

Callinan told the Tribunal that Boucher-Hayes’ account is incorrect and he didn’t smear McCabe to him in any way.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy

Deasy was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and the penalty points controversy had reached a crescendo in January 2014, with Callinan called to give evidence with McCabe waiting in the wings to potentially speak to the committee as well.

Callinan was vehemently opposed to McCabe giving evidence, writing to PAC chairman John McGuinness a number of times expressing his concerns over data protection issues that could arise from McCabe’s evidence with the possibility that confidential, private information could be presented.

1829 John Deasy_90541888 Leah Farrell / Fine Gael TD John Deasy Leah Farrell / /

When Deasy arrived at PAC on the day that Callinan would give evidence on 23 January, he told the Tribunal the following occurred:

The guards were already in the coffee dock and I was on my way to committee, I stopped off to get a coffee, and [Callinan] was standing, I believe, with Nóirín O’Sullivan… The only part that I do remember is him saying that Maurice McCabe was not to be believed or trusted with anything. And the reason I think I remember that is because it surprised me, I have to say.

Callinan denied saying this to Deasy.

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy

The Comptroller and Auditor General had conducted his own survey of the complaints made by McCabe about fixed charge penalty notices, and upheld many of them.

McCarthy was also due to attend the meeting of PAC and told the Tribunal he also exchanged words with Callinan prior to it getting under way.

He said: “I met [Callinan] in the lobby… My recollection is that the Commissioner came forward to have a word with me… We began just with sort of normal greetings and – but very quickly the Commissioner raised Sergeant McCabe’s name in the conversation, along the lines that Sergeant McCabe is not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer and that there were sexual offence allegations against him.”

Callinan denied saying this to McCarthy. He would go on to describe the activities of whistleblowers as “disgusting” at the PAC hearing, which led to heavy criticism of the commissioner.

Fianna Fáil TD and PAC chairman John McGuinness

McGuinness had spoken with McCabe on a number of occasions prior to January 2014, and was keen for PAC to look into his claims about penalty points.

1248 John McGuinness_90541720 Leah Farrell / John McGuinness Leah Farrell / /

He chaired the meeting that day on 23 January where Callinan made the “disgusting” comment.

This is how he described to the Tribunal what happened after the meeting:

“Well, after the meeting we would go and pass some pleasantries, thank them for attending the meeting, for their evidence and so on. On that particular day, as I have stated, as I approached the garda commissioner, he immediately went into a story, or telling me about an incident involving [other whistleblower] John Wilson… and [said] the other fella ‘fiddles with kids; they’re the kind of fucking headbangers I am dealing with’.”

McGuinness said he took the “fella fiddles with kids” comment to refer to Maurice McCabe, and David Taylor recalled hearing Callinan say that in his evidence.

The very next day – and both parties agree this happened – McGuinness agreed to meet with Callinan, and the chosen venue was Bewley’s Hotel in Newlands Cross.

What they differ on in what was said in that underground car park.

Here’s what McGuinness told the Tribunal Callinan told him that afternoon: “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 faced any such criminal charges that McGuinness said were referred to.

“To be quite honest, I was troubled,” McGuinness said. “Lots of questions ran through my mind about how it all had come to this, and what would happen from here.”

McGuinness told the Tribunal that he agonised over his role in all of this because, in the immediate aftermath of being told this by Callinan, he feared that he may have been wrong about McCabe.

He said: “Lots of questions ran through my mind about how it all had come to this, and what would happen from here.

Would the PAC be brought into disrepute because of these charges? There was a lot of worry, concern, and trouble over what he said to me.

Nevertheless, after this he made what he called a “judgement call” and pressed on with the PAC’s agenda, inviting McCabe to give evidence the following week about the penalty points scandal.

Again, Callinan was steadfast in his dismissal of McGuinness’ account, calling it a “falsehood” and not true “in any shape or form”.

In the ether

Slightly separated from this world of political and policing intrigue, rumours around allegations against McCabe were being widely spread, the Tribunal heard.

Even many of those who said they hadn’t been briefed by Taylor said they’d heard rumours ranging in seriousness about McCabe – from the true account of the allegation and DPP directions to false claims that he was a “kiddie fiddler” or a “paedophile”.

When journalists were named as having passed on the info, though, they largely denied this was the case.

This may complicate already intricate matters for Mr Justice Peter Charleton but these accounts do build help contribute to the narrative that allegations of abuse were out in the ether about Maurice McCabe.

The direct accounts in the case of Taylor and the alleged smear campaign he conducted are certainly problematic and require careful consideration from the judge.

In the case of Callinan and the four people he allegedly smeared McCabe to, Judge Charleton will have to a) decide who is telling the truth of this interaction in all four cases and b) if he decides that Callinan’s case is not the true account in any of them, does it constitute a smear campaign against McCabe?

Term of reference C asks the judge to  investigate what knowledge former Commissioner Callinan [and others] had concerning this allegation of criminal misconduct made against Sergeant McCabe and whether they acted upon same in a manner intended to discredit Sergeant McCabe”.

Depending on how the judge rules in the matters a) and b) listed above, a clear answer to that term of reference should be abundantly clear.