Monday 16 September 2019

Senior garda found it 'difficult' to work with former press officer, tribunal told

Maurice McCabe
Maurice McCabe
Former Garda Superintendent Paul Moran (right) at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Superintendent John Ferris (left) at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gerard Cunningham

A senior garda has told the Charleton tribunal that he found it difficult to work with the former garda press officer Supt David Taylor.

Supt John Ferris was being questioned by Tara Burns SC, who represents Mr Taylor at the tribunal.

The tribunal is looking at an allegation in a confidential disclosure by Mr Taylor that he was directed by former garda commissioner Martin Callinan to brief the media negatively on whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Mr Callinan denies giving such a order.

"Being honest, I found Supt Taylor, your client, difficult," Supt Ferris said to Ms Burns. Supt Ferris worked as an inspector in the garda press office with Supt Taylor.

Supt Ferris said that at one stage Mr Taylor took the view that the Garda Press Office "should pump out press releases."

"If there's a lawnmower stolen from a house in Malahide, that does not justify a press release," Supt Ferris said.

Supt Ferris also recounted an incident in which a crime reporter called him asking was he missing something in a press release about a garda seizure of €5000 worth of illegal drugs. This information might be sent to a local paper, he said, but not to the national media for a relatively small seizure.

Supt Ferris said it was unusual for a superintendent to share an office, and he asked if that was okay when Mr Taylor first arrived in the press office, and was told it was. But some weeks later, he arrived at work to find his desk "upside down in three pieces."

Questioned by the tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Supt Ferris clarified he was not suggesting that Mr Taylor broke his desk.

“As an individual I found it very difficult to come to terms with how you could treat any employee in the manner in which I was treated," Supt Ferris said.

Supt Ferris said he had a professional relationship with his superior, and attended the Garda press office Christmas outing, but outside of that he did not socialise with Mr Taylor.

Supt Ferris said that after Mr Taylor was transferred out of the press office to the traffic section, he removed Mr Taylor from a mailing list summarising media coverage of the force. He later removed the superintendent from the list a second time, after his name was added back to the mailing list.

Supt Ferris also said that that he once saw a staff member in the press office printing out contact details for journalists for Mr Taylor, and told her not to do so.

Supt Ferris said he had no recollection of Mr Taylor saying he needed the press clippings in relation to a thesis he was working on at the time, and Mr Taylor did not offer a reason why he wanted to be on the mailing list.

He said the only response from Mr Taylor when told he was no longer on the mailing list was to ask who made the decision to remove him.

Supt Ferris said he did not know anything about any campaign against Sgt McCabe, and "was never privy to any communication between the commissioner and Supt Taylor in relation to Sgt McCabe."

Earlier, a retired senior garda has told the Charleton tribunal that former garda press officer Supt David Taylor was "bitter" about being moved from his role in the press office in 2014.

Retired Supt Paul Moran, who succeeded Mr Taylor in the role, told the Charleton tribunal that he met with Mr Taylor shortly after he took over the role.

"I think he was upset about being moved," Mr Moran said.

"He was somewhat bitter about being moved, that's what I sensed from him myself. He wasn't happy about being moved," Mr Moran told the tribunal.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that senior gardaí were smearing whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe to politicians, journalists and others. Mr Taylor has said in a statement that he was instructed to brief negatively against the sergeant.

Supt Taylor’s lawyer says he did not express anything explicit to Supt Moran on his thoughts on the move.

Ms Tara Burns Sc, representing Mr Taylor, said her client's instructions were that because he felt that Mr Moran was close to former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, he did not express any specific view to him in relation to the Commissioner.

Mr Moran said he deduced that Mr Taylor was unhappy with being moved from his body language and from the conversation they had.

He said that on taking over the post of garda press officer on June 10 2014, he met with Mr Taylor and received "a comprehensive briefing" from him.

He testified that that if a journalist contacted him, he would refer them to the staff in the press office, and that interactions with journalists would be recorded on Spotlight, a system used by the press office.

Superintendent John Ferris, who works in garda corporate communications, and worked in the garda press office from 2007, said he was not aware of negative briefings to journalists.

Supt Ferris said the only knowledge he had of any campaign against Sgt McCabe was as it unfolded in the newspapers.

"I had no knowledge of this alleged campaign and I had no part in it and I instructed nobody," Supt Ferris said.

Mr Taylor remained on a press list after he was transferred to the traffic section, and Supt Ferris had him removed from this list.

Supt Ferris said that Mr Taylor was removed from the list after Mr Taylor sought access to a daily press clippings file.

Supt Ferris, who was an inspector at the time, said that when Mr Taylor was first appointed to the press office, he did not seem comfortable sharing an office.

"One morning I came in and my desk was upside down on the floor in three parts," Supt Ferris said.

"I felt it was disrespectful to me as an individual, it was unprofessional," Supt Ferris said.

The tribunal also heard legal representation was sought on behalf of several newspapers and named journalists.

Representation was granted to the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, RTE, Independent News & Media, the Daily Star, the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Times, and the Sunday World.

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said that it was right that the news organisations should represent journalists and back them up, and they should not be left on their own. He said the tribunal had written to several news organisations which might be affected by its work, but not all had replied.

The tribunal resumes on Friday .

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