Thursday 19 September 2019

'Awful lot of witnesses not telling the truth,' claims tribunal judge

Journalist Debbie McCann
Journalist Debbie McCann
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The chairman of the Disclosures Tribunal has said "an awful lot" of witnesses are not telling the truth.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton made the comments during an exchange with journalist Debbie McCann after she refused to answer questions about a conversation she may have had with former Garda press officer Dave Taylor.

Supt Taylor has claimed he spoke to Ms McCann, the crime correspondent for the 'Irish Mail on Sunday', in February 2014 before she attempted to interview Ms D, a woman who made a sexual assault complaint against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Ms McCann is one of 11 journalists Supt Taylor claims to have negatively briefed as part of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, allegedly ordered by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The superintendent has signed a waiver releasing journalists from any obligation they believe they have to maintain the secrecy of communications they had with him.

Ms McCann has denied being negatively briefed by any garda about Sgt McCabe, but maintains the waiver does not release her from her obligation to protect sources.

She said that if she revealed the content of "off the record" conversations she might not be trusted as a journalist in future.

Asked about the conversation by tribunal counsel Patrick Marrinan SC, Ms McCann claimed journalistic privilege.

Mr Justice Charleton intervened to say, firstly, he needed to know the facts and circumstances on which she was basing her claim of privilege and, secondly, if she was telling the truth. "Because I can tell you, I am not an idiot," he said. "I have sat here for very close to 90 days and I know, subject of course to hearing submissions, that an awful lot of people are not telling the truth."

Ms McCann responded she was telling the truth to the best of her ability and would prefer to answer everything, but was constrained from doing so.

However, Mr Justice Charleton said at the moment he could not see how privilege arose.

"Unfortunately at the moment a reasonable person might see this as a complete smokescreen. I'm not saying whether I see it that way or not, but I'm here to listen," he said.

Ms McCann's testimony that she was never negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe is at odds with that of her colleague Alison O'Reilly, who gave evidence to the tribunal that Ms McCann maligned Sgt McCabe and told her the sources of her information included former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and Supt Taylor.

Ms O'Sullivan has denied this and Ms McCann has denied speaking to her or Mr Callinan.

Mr Callinan denies Supt Taylor's claim that he ordered a smear campaign and Ms O'Sullivan has denied the superintendent's allegation that she knew about it.

Ms McCann said she had "no evidence of an orchestrated campaign by senior Garda management".

Pressed further by Mr Marrinan, she said: "I wasn't briefed negatively by any member of An Garda Síochána in relation to Sgt McCabe."

The hearing was told this was the first time she had told this to the tribunal, which had been corresponding with her newspaper since February 2017.

Ms McCann denied there had initially been a "blanket refusal" to answer questions posed by the tribunal. She also denied numerous claims made by Ms O'Reilly, including an allegation she described Sgt McCabe as "a paedo".

While the whistleblower was the subject of an historic claim of child sexual assault, the DPP ruled out charges in 2007 and found no crime was described.

Irish Independent

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