Thursday 16 August 2018

O’Sullivan tells Disclosures Tribunal she never told journalist McCabe had abused a girl

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said she never told a journalist that penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe abused a girl when she was a child.

Ms O’Sullivan told the Disclosures Tribunal she never discussed Sgt McCabe or allegations made by the now adult complainant, known as Ms D, with journalist Debbie McCann of the Irish Mail on Sunday.

The tribunal has previously heard Ms McCann is the daughter of a former senior garda, John McCann, who Ms O’Sullivan knew.

Ms O’Sullivan was responding to questions from Fíonán Ó Muircheartaigh BL, counsel for Alison O’Reilly, a journalist at the Irish Daily Mail.

The tribunal has heard Ms O’Reilly made a statement to the tribunal in which she alleged she was told by Ms McCann between 2013 and 2014 that then Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor and Ms O’Sullivan had told her Sgt McCabe abused a girl when she was a child.

She alleges Ms McCann told her the abuse was covered up because Sgt McCabe was a Garda and the case was never given a Pulse number.

Responding to Mr Ó Muircheartaigh, Ms O’Sullivan denied that she had ever discussed Sgt McCabe with Ms McCann.

According to Ms O’Reilly’s statement, Ms McCann said Ms O’Sullivan gave her an “off the record” interview as she did not want to be seen to be doing an interview with a journalist she knew in the first few weeks of the job as acting commissioner, as she then was.

However, Ms O’Sullivan said she only met Ms McCann for the first time at a book launch in mid-November 2014.

Prior to that, in 2012 and 2013, there had been a number of interview requests from Ms McCann, submitted via the Garda Press Office, but no interview occurred.

Ms O’Sullivan said that at a later stage she did respond over the phone to written questions which had been submitted by Ms McCann for an article.

Mr Ó Muircheartaigh said that according to Ms O’Reilly’s statement, Ms McCann referred to Sgt McCabe as a paedophile.

Ms O’Reilly says she confronted her colleague in Herbert Park in Dublin and asked her how she knew the story was true.

She said Ms McCann told her the story was coming “from the top”.

Ms O’Reilly said she asked if this was a reference to “your pal Nóirín” and that Ms McCann replied that it was.

Ms O’Sullivan said she would not classify herself as Ms McCann's “pal”.

She reiterated that she had never spoken to Ms McCann in relation to Sgt McCabe or Ms D.

Sgt McCabe was the subject of a Garda investigation after Ms D made allegations in 2006 that she had been sexually assaulted by him as a child years earlier.

He was cleared the following year when the Director of Public Prosecutions found the events described would not constitute a crime.

The tribunal is investigating claims by Supt Taylor that he was ordered by then commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013 to negatively brief journalists about the Ms D allegation, and that this was done with the knowledge of Mr Callinan’s then deputy, Ms O’Sullivan.

Mr Callinan has denied giving any such order and Ms O’Sullivan has denied all knowledge of a smear campaign.

Responding to questions from tribunal counsel Kathleen Leader BL, Ms O’Sullivan said she was never briefed by Supt Taylor that Ms McCann and another journalist, Eavan Murray of the Irish Sun, had visited Ms D’s home in late February 2014.

“That absolutely never happened. I didn’t know anything about Ms McCann or Ms Murray interviewing Ms D,” she said.

Ms O’Sullivan said she only found out about this at the beginning of the tribunal proceedings.

The tribunal has heard that Ms D did not do an interview with either journalist.

However, she did do an interview in March 2014 with Irish Independent crime journalist Paul Williams.

Supt Taylor has claimed Mr Williams phoned him on March 8, 2014, telling him he was at the Ms D household and had interviewed the family.

He also claims he texted Ms O’Sullivan to inform her of this and that she called him back to discuss the matter.

Under questioning for Conor Dignam SC, counsel for An Garda Síochána, Ms O’Sullivan agreed that phone records did not show the sequence of contacts alleged by Supt Taylor.

Mr Dignam said Mr Williams’ evidence was that he did not contact Supt Taylor that day, but rang him a few days later to fact check a number of matters.

Ms O’Sullivan agreed that phone records for March 10 and 11 also indicated the sequence of contacts alleged by Supt Taylor was not borne out by phone records on those dates either.

Asked about phone contacts with Mr Williams in February, March and April of that year, Ms O’Sullivan said none of these were about Sgt McCabe.

She said a number of issues, including a controversy over the alleged bugging of the Garda Ombudsman’s office, were prominent in the media at the time.

Asked about a text she sent Mr Williams on April 12, 2014, the day his interview with Ms D was published, Ms O’Sullivan said it was possible this related to a review of the journalist’s security arrangements.

Ms Leader pointed out that Ms O’Sullivan had put forward no explanation for the contacts in her initial statement to the tribunal. In that statement she said she could not recall.

Ms O’Sullivan said that subsequent to making the statement she made inquiries as there was something in her mind about the period, and this confirmed there was a review of security arrangements for a number of individuals taking place around that time.

She said she could not definitively say what the text on April 12 related to, but that the security arrangements would have been an ongoing issue.

Ms O’Sullivan insisted she had not discussed Sgt McCabe with Mr Williams.

“I would have absolute respect for Mr Williams as a journalist, but we would have had professional boundaries,” she said.

“It is not something I would have discussed with anyone.”

Former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris told the tribunal that the newspaper published a story by journalist Philip Ryan on May 5, 2013.

This story was to the effect that some of the people who had penalty points quashed had gone on to be involved in fatal accidents.

Ms Harris said at the next news conference, where journalists generally pitch stories and discuss story ideas, a freelance journalist told her she didn’t know “the whole story” about Sgt McCabe.

She said the gist of what the journalist told her was that a colleague of Sgt McCabe had been driving along with his daughter when the girl saw Sgt McCabe and said: “Daddy, Daddy. That’s the man.”

The story relayed to her was that something had happened in 2006, but she said the inference was vague.

“That was the first I heard of it,” said Ms Harris.

She said she decided to find out if there was anything in what the journalist was saying and that she used her own sources.

Ms Harris said she discovered that the DPP had looked into it and found it was groundless.

She said this story was raised with her by the journalist on a second occasion, but she “shut it down”.

Ms Harris said she didn’t think the purpose was to have a story published, but was “intended as a chilling thing”.

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