McCabe 'portrayed as a bitter man' in briefing to O'Sullivan legal team
Barristers advised whistleblower's motivation should be challenged after meeting
Whistleblower Maurice McCabe was portrayed as a bitter man and prone to exaggeration during a briefing to lawyers representing the then -Garda commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan at the O'Higgins Commission.
The Disclosures Tribunal heard that the meeting, three days before the commission began, signalled a radical change in attitude by the commissioner towards Sgt McCabe.
In the preceding months, Ms O'Sullivan had offered him her full support. But at a consultation meeting in the Four Courts, attended by a number of gardaí and lawyers on May 11, 2015, three barristers who would be representing the commissioner at O'Higgins were briefed about issues in Sgt McCabe's background.
The commission was investigating concerns raised by Sgt McCabe about Garda malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan Division, but the briefing included information about Sgt McCabe which was not being examined by O'Higgins.
This included details of a previously dismissed allegation of sexual assault and the fact that Sgt McCabe wanted the DPP's directions in that case released in full.
Garda head of legal affairs Ken Ruane told tribunal counsel Pat Marrinan SC that the information came from Chief Supt Fergus Healy, who acted as a liaison between Ms O'Sullivan and her legal team.
According to notes of the consultation, made by Mr Ruane and Annmarie Ryan, a solicitor with the Chief State Solicitor's Office, Sgt McCabe had also been involved in an incident in a hotel with Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne, after which Sgt McCabe alleged that he had been assaulted and falsely imprisoned.
Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said it seemed the "central thrust" was that Sgt McCabe "was a bitter man".
The judge also observed that the briefing could have led the barristers to believe Sgt McCabe was "perhaps someone who tends to exaggerate things".
Mr Ruane said the briefing and the subsequent legal strategy to attack Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility at the commission were "certainly inconsistent and at odds with the Garda commissioner's policy" towards the whistleblower in the previous months.
Asked if he thought it peculiar that the issues were raised, Mr Ruane said: "I think what Chief Supt Healy was trying to do was to give a background as to the interpersonal difficulties that arose between Sgt McCabe and colleagues."
Chief Supt Healy was said to have told barristers Colm Smyth SC, Michael MacNamara BL, and Garret Byrne BL that the sexual-assault allegation, of which Sgt McCabe was cleared, involved the minor daughter of a colleague.
The lawyers were told that Supt Noel Cunningham, who had investigated that allegation, would "give us full details".
The notes also show the barristers were told that Sgt McCabe produced two boxes of Pulse data relating to incidents he said had not been investigated properly at Bailieborough Garda station during his hotel meeting with Asst Commissioner Byrne.
The barristers were told Sgt McCabe's subsequent complaint of assault and false imprisonment was investigated and no prosecution was directed by the DPP. They were told Sgt McCabe said to Mr Byrne: "I will bring this job to its knees."
A row erupted at the commission over Ms O'Sullivan's legal strategy on May 15, 2015, the second day of hearings.
Mr Ruane said he was not involved in instructing the barristers, but said that "with hindsight" he perhaps should have phoned the commissioner when a row erupted.
Annmarie Ryan, who was Ms O'Sullivan's solicitor at the commission, said that following the consultation and meetings with witnesses, counsel advised the commissioner "that motivation should be challenged".
Asked if it was likely that all of the information she noted during the consultation was provided by Chief Supt Healy, she said: "I was in a room with a lot of people. I would not be able to say who said what."