Saturday 16 November 2019

Days of questions... but no easy answers

His main antagonist struggled in the witness box, but Martin Callinan is not out of the woods at the Disclosures Tribunal, writes Shane Phelan

WHISTLEBLOWER: Maurice McCabe with his wife Lorraine at the Disclosures Tribunal. Photo: Gareth Chaney
WHISTLEBLOWER: Maurice McCabe with his wife Lorraine at the Disclosures Tribunal. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

In the days leading up to former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan's first appearance at the Disclosures Tribunal last Friday his principal antagonist, Supt Dave Taylor, endured a torrid time in the witness box.

Supt Taylor's allegations about Mr Callinan, made in an explosive protective disclosure in September 2016, were among the principal catalysts for setting up of the tribunal, which has been ongoing since February of last year.

But after four bruising days of questioning last week, Supt Taylor must have left Dublin Castle with the softly spoken words of tribunal chairman Peter Charleton ringing in his ears.

Mr Justice Charleton, however soothing his tone can be, does not mince his words and told Supt Taylor he had been "breaking the Garda code left, right and centre every single day almost for a period of over a year".

This was a reference to Supt Taylor's unauthorised leaking of information to the media after he was moved out of the Garda press office by Mr Callinan's successor Noirin O'Sullivan.

What about the people who had to live with press reports and what about the investigations that were potentially compromised as a result of his actions, the judge wondered?

Supt Taylor accepted what Mr Justice Charleton had to say and said he regretted his actions and would have to live with them.

The exchange came near the end of four days where Supt Taylor failed to provide much evidence to corroborate his central claim that he briefed journalists negatively about penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe on the orders of Mr Callinan and with the knowledge of then deputy commissioner O'Sullivan.

His allegations largely came in broad brushstrokes and without specifics.

Not once could he pinpoint any dates or places when alleged briefings occurred.

The 11 journalists he has named have either denied being briefed or have asserted journalistic privilege.

Mr Callinan was keeping a close eye on his former press officer's evidence.

Not long after beginning his testimony last Friday, he said: "Certainly what has emerged in the evidence from Supt Taylor is beyond my comprehension."

The two had not been friends, but enjoyed a close professional relationship.

When Mr Callinan resigned following one Garda controversy too many in March 2014, Supt Taylor texted him saying: "Commissioner, I feel so sorry for the way you have been treated, it's despicable. You will always be the boss to me and I'm proud to have served under you and worked with you. You were inspirational to me."

Mr Callinan said he was "shocked" by Supt Taylor's protected disclosure allegations and at the time could see no rationale as to why he would make them.

Now, he sees things differently. Last Friday he told the tribunal he believed Supt Taylor was motivated to make the allegations by a grudge he held against Ms O'Sullivan for moving him out of the Garda press office and, as he saw it, having him arrested for unauthorised leaking.

Mr Callinan hypothesised that Supt Taylor decided that in order to make his story work he had to involve Mr Callinan, and cast the former commissioner as the plotter in chief against Sgt McCabe.

That Supt Taylor's account has been significantly undermined will provide much comfort for Mr Callinan, but he is by no means out of the woods.

Five high-profile public figures have each alleged, independently of each other, that the former commissioner maligned Sgt McCabe in late 2013 and early 2014.

All of the allegations about what he allegedly said differ, but there are some commonalities.

For example, Fine Gael TD John Deasy alleges Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe "was not to be believed or trusted with anything".

RTE presenter Philip Boucher-Hayes has provided a statement claiming Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was "not to be trusted" and went on to add that he could tell him "horrific things, the worst kind of thing" about Sgt McCabe. He claimed the then commissioner told him in a corridor off the Crimecall set that Sgt McCabe had "a lot of psychiatric and psychological problems" and was "motivated by a set of grievances against Garda management".

The conversation took place in December 2013 against the backdrop of a disagreement between the presenter and Mr Callinan after the commissioner indicated he would not take questions about the penalty points controversy.

As a result of the disagreement there had been a risk a Crimecall edition would not be aired.

Mr Boucher-Hayes says Mr Callinan did not elaborate on what the "horrific things" were.

But the following month Mr Callinan is alleged to have told Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness that Sgt McCabe had abused his own children.

He is also alleged to have told Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy that Sgt McCabe "was not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer, and that there were sexual offence allegations against him".

Solicitor Gerald Kean alleges that the same month the then commissioner told him not only had Sgt McCabe not cooperated with an internal Garda review of the penalty points issue, but he was also troublesome, obstructive and difficult.

Mr Callinan is denying making any of the comments he is alleged to have made.

He had a chance to respond in detail to the Boucher-Hayes and Kean allegations last Friday and is expected to be quizzed closely about the other ones in the coming week.

It is effectively their word against his.

Sunday Independent

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