Wednesday 21 February 2018

Garda tribunal judge hits out at 'very disappointing' response from witnesses

Justice Peter Charleton, Presiding over the Disclosure Tribunal at its opening at Dublin Castle. Photo Colin O'Riordan
Justice Peter Charleton, Presiding over the Disclosure Tribunal at its opening at Dublin Castle. Photo Colin O'Riordan

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

The chairman of the Disclosures Tribunal has hit out at the level of cooperation it is receiving from potential witnesses.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton is investigating allegations that a smear campaign was orchestrated by senior gardaí against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Opening the tribunal on February 27, he issued a call for interested parties and witnesses to come forward within two weeks.

But in an interim report, the Supreme Court judge said that while it had received many useful pieces of correspondence, the general level of response was "very disappointing".

A central issue being investigated is whether or not former Garda press officer Superintendent David Taylor was instructed by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan or her predecessor Martin Callinan to brief journalists negatively about Sgt McCabe.

Mr Justice Charleton said some journalists had given witness statements in which they specified conversations which had taken place outside of what they perceived to be the cloak of journalistic privilege.

But others contacted by the tribunal have refused to say whether or not they have any relevant testimony, he said.

The judge noted that several representatives of journalists signalled their intention to apply for legal representation but declined to answer any questions from the tribunal as to whether they had any relevant information to offer.

He said the issue of journalistic privilege was one that is likely to occupy the tribunal’s time.

The report outlined how the tribunal is currently engaged in preliminary investigations which will have to be advanced before public hearings begin.

Two investigators have been seconded from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the tribunal has made a number of orders for the preservation and disclosure of evidence, as well as discovery and inspection orders in relation to a range of documentation.

Mr Justice Charleton said the most pressing issue of public concern was whether or not files in the HSE, Tusla and the Rian counselling service were created, distributed or otherwise used by senior gardaí to invent or spread a false allegation of sexual abuse against Sgt McCabe.

He said this would be the first section dealt with at public hearings, which are hoped to begin in July.

The judge said progress had "moved very far" on the issue, but analysis needed to be conducted on relevant computers and there would need to be further interviews.

Public hearings in a module relating to Garda Keith Harrison, who is alleged to have been the subject of a malicious referral to Tusla, are hoped to take place in September.

Mr Justice Charleton said it was hoped public hearings on Supt Taylor’s allegation he was directed by superiors to brief the media against Sgt McCabe would take place in November.

Hearings on whether or not Commissioner O’Sullivan influenced or dictated the content of an RTÉ report on the findings of the O’Higgins Commission are hoped to take place in December.

The tribunal also plans to use the same month to deal with whether or not false allegations of sexual abuse were inappropriately relied upon by the commissioner during hearings before Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins.

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