Thursday 19 September 2019

'Pauline conversion' of a press officer and the flat denials that leave a judge puzzled

Sgt Maurice McCabe
Sgt Maurice McCabe
John Downing

John Downing

It was a conversion worthy of St Paul on the road to Damascus. For almost one year, Superintendent David Taylor said he had been instructed to smear Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Mr Taylor had joined An Garda Síochána in 1982 and risen steadily through the ranks until he was promoted to superintendent in 2012.

Suddenly - he's not entirely sure why - he received a call from the outgoing head of the Garda Press Office "sounding him out" as to his interest in taking on that job.

He started in June 2012, quickly building up a relationship with the force's head, commissioner Martin Callinan. He got the grand total of 50 minutes' formal training via Carr Communications due to unused funds that were left over from some kind of Garda media campaign.

Sometime in mid-2013, Commissioner Callinan called him to his office and told him that Sgt McCabe had been investigated in 2006 for a sex offence.

This was behind his causing persistent controversy about flaws in the penalty points regime - McCabe was seeking revenge against the force and Commissioner Callinan wanted that known among the wider public.

Supt Taylor fell to his task with diligence and he briefed a number of journalists who wrote about crime and a few who wrote about politics.

"Did he not find this wrong?" asked counsel for the Disclosures Tribunal, Diarmaid McGuinness.

Supt Taylor reminded the lawyer that An Garda Síochána was a "disciplined force".

When the Garda commissioner gave him a direct order, he fulfilled it.

He kept in constant contact with his boss, updating him on the campaign progress and how Sgt McCabe's story was playing in the media and in Dáil Éireann. As 2013 folded into 2014, he was busier and busier with the McCabe case.

Then-deputy commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was fully aware of this campaign as he discussed it with her on occasions and also copied her in on texts, to which she often replied with one word: "Perfect."

Supt Taylor thought highly of Commissioner Callinan and sent him an effusive text when he was obliged to abruptly retire in late March 2014.

By June 2014, he himself had to leave the press office and take up a new post with the traffic corps.

In 2016, he made a protected disclosure about the campaign of vilification he had carried out. By then, he was under suspension and being investigated for allegedly leaking sensitive information to journalists.

Why the dramatic about turn? The commission lawyer wanted to know if it was a quest for his own protection? Supt Taylor insisted no such thing. He merely wanted the truth put into the public domain and several months away from the "hot house atmosphere of the force" helped him see that the campaign against Sgt McCabe had been wrong.

He even took "a spiritual person's" advice to meet Sgt McCabe in September 2016 and confess all.

But not everyone recalls this campaign of vilification.

Of nine journalists he named as briefed against Sgt McCabe, five flatly denied that any such thing ever happened.

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton twice asked if Mr Taylor could offer specific examples. But he conceded that he did not have examples.

The judge was puzzled.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News