Former Garda press officer ‘can be believed’, Disclosures Tribunal told
A lawyer for former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor has acknowledged there are “shortcomings” in his client’s evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal.
However, Michael O’Higgins SC insisted Supt Taylor was “capable of being believed” and it would be up to chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton to decide if he was telling the truth.
The barrister made the comments during closing legal submissions to the tribunal, which is investigating claims there was a smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
Supt Taylor alleged in a protected disclosure he was ordered in 2013 by then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to negatively brief journalists that Sgt McCabe had been investigated and cleared of an allegation of child sexual assault.
The superintendent claims he was told to emphasise that as a result of being placed under investigation, Sgt McCabe was motivated by spite and ill will when he raised concerns of malpractice within the force in relation to penalty points and other matters.
He also alleges then deputy commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan knew about the smear campaign. Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan deny the claims.
Addressing the judge, Mr O’Higgins acknowledged that of 12 journalists Supt Taylor claims to have negatively briefed, ten had denied receiving any such briefing, while two others were not willing to comment.
However, Mr O’Higgins said that if his client was a fantasist or someone who liked to throw a spanner in the works, then he was a very lucky fantasist and a very lucky spanner thrower.
This, he said, was because the tribunal had heard that the very person Supt Taylor claims directed him, Mr Callinan, was “very active” in maligning Sgt McCabe.
The barrister was referring to evidence from TDs John McGuinness and John Deasy, Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, and RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher Hayes, who all allege Mr Callinan made derogatory and totally untrue remarks about Sgt McCabe in early 2014.
In the case of Mr McGuinness, the TD alleges Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe had abused his own children. Mr Boucher Hayes has testified that Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe had “psychiatric” and “psychological” issues, and had done “horrific things”. Mr Callinan has disputed their evidence.
Mr O’Higgins said either his client’s claims were a “mere coincidence” or there was a “scheme in place”.
He said his submission to the tribunal was that Supt Taylor and Mr Callinan were “working in tandem”.
The barrister said the witnesses who had given evidence about conversations with Mr Callinan were all very respectable people who could be relied upon.
They had all achieved much in their respective walks of life and had no axes to grind, he said.
Mr O’Higgins said there were three criticisms levelled at Supt Taylor in assessing his credibility.
These were a lack of specificity in the alleged briefings, a lack of detail about the timing and the context of when he is supposed to have conducted these briefings, and the fact he had significant employment issues at the time he made his protected disclosure.
Mr O’Higgins said these were all very valid complaints and he was conceding these were matters the tribunal should properly take into account.
He also said that he was in the unusual situation in putting his client’s case that he had to persuade the judge Supt Taylor had behaved in an improper way.
The barrister said there were “an awful lot” of people who know things, but few had come forward to the tribunal.
He said his client had come forward and was a whistleblower.
Mr O’Higgins said whistleblowers are often “very damaged people” and can often operate in a milieu where they knew or ought to have known they were behaving inappropriately.
“If Supt Taylor was involved in this activity, which is indefensible, he is a flawed character,” said Mr O’Higgins.
“Equally, he did a brave thing,” the barrister said.
Mr O’Higgins said it could not have been easy to invite Sgt McCabe to his home.
This was reference to a meeting in 2016 where Supt Taylor informed Sgt McCabe he had been involved in a smear campaign against him.
Mr O’Higgins also said it could not have been easy to step outside the Garda family and make a protected disclosure.
“It would have been easy for him to keep his head down, but he didn’t to that,” he said.