Wednesday 23 January 2019

Journalist tells Disclosures Tribunal he heard 'tittle tattle' about Maurice McCabe

Irish Examiner Journalist Juno McEnroe
Irish Examiner Journalist Juno McEnroe
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A JOURNALIST has told the Disclosures Tribunal he heard “tittle tattle” about penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe but has refused to answer questions about whether he was “negatively briefed.”

Irish Examiner Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe said he would not deny or confirm if former garda press officer, Supt Dave Taylor told him about an allegation of sexual misconduct against Sgt McCabe.

Claiming journalistic privilege, he rejected an accusation that he was “playing games” with the tribunal, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Sgt McCabe.

Another Irish Examiner correspondent, Cormac O’Keefe refused to answer questions about what he might have been told about Sgt McCabe, also citing privilege.

Mr McEnroe and Mr O'Keeffe are two of eleven journalists Supt Taylor claims to have negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe between mid-2013 and March 2014.

Supt Taylor alleges he was ordered to do so in mid-2013 by then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and with the knowledge of then Deputy Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan. They both deny his allegations.

While Sgt McCabe was investigated over a sexual assault allegation made by a woman known as Ms D, the DPP decided in 2007 there should be no charges and what was described in the complaint did not amount to a crime.

Today, Mr McEnroe confirmed that when the tribunal wrote to him in March 2017, a reply was sent by lawyers on his behalf, stating: “Please note that Mr McEnroe believes that he does not have any information relevant to the terms of reference of the tribunal.”

Mr McEnroe told Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal that the letter was sent after he sought legal advice.

“I would now like to clarify that it was incorrect,” he said, adding that the letter should have stated that he would be claiming journalistic privilege and would not be confirming or denying that he had any information that was relevant to the tribunal.

He now regretted the letter that was sent and wished to correct the record, he said.

By the time he was later interviewed by tribunal investigators, the two former commissioners and Supt Taylor had waived privilege, Ms Leader said.

He accepted he told the investigators that the content of the letter was correct and that he should have taken the opportunity to correct it.

“I regret the error of the reply,” he said, describing it as a “rushed judgement.”

He was asked by investigators if he was aware or had any evidence of any attempt made by either former garda commissioners or any other senior members of the gardai to discredit Sgt McCabe by reference to an allegation of criminal misconduct.

He had replied: “No I am not.”

Mr McEnroe said that remained his position and he took the question to refer to the rank of commissioner or assistant commissioner, but not Supt Taylor.

“In relation to Supt Taylor, I cannot answer questions… for fear that may be disclosing information that may be relating to a source or sources,” he said.

Mr McEnroe said no other journalists or politicians informed him of any attempt to discredit Sgt McCabe by reference to criminal misconduct.

He said he did not not know anything about the sexual allegation against Sgt McCabe until a “much later stage,” after July 2014.

The tribunal heard Supt Taylor left the Garda Press Office on June 10 that year. Ms Leader put it to Mr McEnroe that Supt Taylor had said he did brief him negatively about Sgt McCabe’s “revenge” motivation when he was press officer. Supt Taylor had put this at around January 2014.

Supt Taylor had said Mr McEnroe would not have known about “the orchestrated campaign” to discredit Sgt McCabe.

Mr McEnroe said he chose not to answer any questions in relation to this.

Chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said it followed that Mr McEnroe was not negatively briefed by Supt Taylor because he was saying he did not know about the allegations until after this time.

“I did not say Supt did not brief me, I did not confirm or deny it,” Mr McEnroe replied.

“It seems to me that you are playing games,” Mr Justice Charleton said at one point.

“I reject that, Chairman,” he replied. “I am trying to be as helpful as I can.”

“I don’t think you are being helpful at all,” Mr Justice Charleton said.

Mr McEnroe said if he had been told the allegations, he would have been shocked and “probably sought to check up on the issues.”

Ms Leader said Supt Taylor had narrowed down the time he claimed to have briefed Mr McEnroe to January 2014.

“I am not confirming or denying anything,” he replied.

Mr McEnroe said he did specifically recall that at the time Sgt McCabe came to Leinster House to appear before the Dail committee, there was “gossip, prattle, tittle tattle”, that somebody raised a question mark, “a doubt” around Sgt McCabe and whether he was trustworthy.

Mr McEnroe said he endeavoured to look into that and was satisfied that Sgt McCabe was a credible person.

Ms Leader said in his waiving of privilege, Supt Taylor had identified himself as an anonymous quoted source in two articles written by Mr McEnroe in January and February 2014.

“I cannot discuss the identity of sources behind articles,” Mr McEnroe said.

He told Paul McGarry SC, for Sgt McCabe that the “prattle” he heard was when “somebody dropped a question mark” about Sgt McCabe.

John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor, said Supt Taylor had said the alleged briefing was done on an “opportunistic basis”, “dropped into conversations.”

Mr McEnroe repeated that he was not in a position to go into this.

“As a journalist, sources are the bread and butter of our industry,” he told Mr Justice Charleton.

He told Mr Ferry the gossip he heard was “very minimal” and it was at a time when Sgt McCabe was involved in a “David and Goliath” moment, where he was going up against “top brass.”

“It was in the context of that that it was said to me that maybe there was a doubt about him,” Mr McEnroe  said.

He told journalist Alison O’Reilly’s lawyer, Fionan O Muircheartaigh that disclosing what someone says in confidence could have a negative effect on someone’s career and his position was “the most responsible position to have as a journalist.”

Mr O Muircheartaigh put it to him that the opposite was the case.

 Irish Examiner Security Correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe refused to answer any questions about what anyone other than fellow journalists might have told him about Sgt McCabe.

He told the tribunal he would not say whether he was briefed negatively about Sgt McCabe by anyone in the gardai including Supt Taylor or either of the former garda commissioners, for reasons of journalistic privilege.

When Mr O’Keeffe was interviewed by tribunal investigators, he largely refused to answer questions based on a claim of privilege and this remained his position.

Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, asked him if he had heard any rumours about Sgt McCabe’s character in 2013 or 2014.

Mr O’Keeffe said he would answer the question in relation to “gossip.”

He said he came to the story late, in 2015, and heard “snatches of conversation or bits of gossip.”

Mr O’Keeffe estimated that he first heard the allegation of a sexual nature, as a rumour, from other journalists between February and May 2014. He was “very cautious” about this information and what he could do with it. His recollection was not clear about what steps he took.

Asked by Patrick Marrinan SC if he had heard it from anyone other than a journalist, he said: “anything that I may have heard that may have come from a source I cannot go into.”

In questioning by Mr Marrinan, he said he was concerned about “narrowing down” sources.

Chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton told Mr O’Keeffe there were five million people in the country and “we are not getting close to revealing a source.”

Mr O’Keeffe said any action by a journalist that was seen as confirming the identity of a source could have “serious consequences” for the free-flow of information and a “chilling effect.”

Mr Marrinan said Supt Taylor was in jeopardy of being condemned as a liar “unless you support him.”

“I personally have nothing to hide, I did nothing wrong, it’s the principle that is at stake,” Mr O’Keeffe said, adding that he would not do anything to jeopardise the crucial function of the press.

The tribunal hearing was continuing this afternoon.

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