Former Garda Commissioner tells Charleton Tribunal 'disgusting' remark was not directed at whistleblowers

Former Garda Commissioner tells Charleton Tribunal 'disgusting' remark was not directed at whistleblowers
Martin Callinan leaving the tribunal today. Pic: Rollingnews.ie

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has told the Charleton Tribunal that his use of the word "disgusting" before a Public Accounts Committee hearing was "isolated and misconstrued" in media reports.

The tribunal is examining allegations by former garda press officer Supt David Taylor that he was directed by Mr Callinan to brief the media negatively on whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

In January 2014, Mr Callinan appeared before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, and was questioned about the penalty points controversy.

Tribunal barrister Patrick Marrinan SC said that "the use of the word disgusting caused a media storm. You were put under the cosh immediately."

"I was, yes," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said that the word was not directed personally at whistleblowers, but at the manner in which issues were highlighted.

"It is a very strong term, but I have very strong feelings in that regard," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said there were "miles of articles since, pillorying me for criticising Sgt McCabe for reporting wrongdoing."

"Sgt McCabe rightly reported wrongdoing and indeed he has proved to be correct in quite a number of the criticisms he identified," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said he would be "the first to acknowledge that Sgt McCabe identified weaknesses in the system", and it would be hypocritical to say otherwise.

Mr Callinan said that 2.5% of penalty point notices were cancelled, which came to over 10,000 notices per year. He said that this amounted to less than two per week per garda district.

"But of course there is no excuse for many of those cancellations that weren't appropriate," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said that he did not agree to a suggestion to make a clarifying statement or do a radio interview with Sean O'Rourke, suggested by the Garda's civilian director of communications Andrew McLindon.

"I felt that I would be seen to be making excuses and it might just fan the problem," Mr Callinan said.

The month before Mr Callinan's PAC appearance, the commissioner was scheduled to appear on an RTE Crimeline programme, and beforehand he spoke with journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes.

In advance of his appearance, Garda HQ gave RTE a list of topics to be discussed on the programme. Mr Callinan understood RTE also wanted to include the penalty points controversy, rural station closures, and the Smithwick Tribunal.

In RTE, Mr Boucher-Hayes told the commissioner he was "disappointed", and said he believed Mr Callinan should engage with the topics.

Mr Callinan told the tribunal he had already engaged with the topics at a press conference with the minister, and did not feel the programme was an appropriate venue.

The commissioner said no when Mr Boucher-Hayes asked if he would answer questions about garda whistleblowers.

"I think everybody was aware of Sgt McCabe's complaints at that stage," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said his understanding going to RTE was that the question of what topics he would cover had already been resolved.

In a statement to the tribunal, Mr Boucher-Hayes said the commissioner gave him "a negative but cursory impression of John Wilson", and spoke "at some length on Maurice McCabe's character."

Mr Boucher-Hayes said that Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was "a troubled individual", and had "a lot of psychological issues and psychiatric reports".

"I wouldn't talk about any member of An Garda Síochána like that," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Boucher-Hayes also said that Mr Callinan said there were "horrific things, the worst kind of thing" he could say about Sgt McCabe, but the commissioner did not elaborate further.

Mr Callinan said that Mr Boucher-Hayes was an experienced journalist with RTE, and would not have let it go if he heard something like that without asking "what the hell are you talking about commissioner?"

Mr Callinan said he did not say what was reported, and that Mr Boucher-Hayes had been interacting with other garda officers earlier that day and had other conversations.

"If somebody else had it I didn't have it, and it certainly wasn't on my instructions or directions," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan said he had been interviewed before by Mr Boucher-Hayes and their relationship was nothing other than professional

"These are very strong accusations here, and they're untrue," Mr Callinan said.

Mr Boucher-Hayes said that after the conversation with Mr Callinan, Supt Taylor said: "Now do you see what the problem with Maurice McCabe and the penalty points is?"

Mr Callinan said that with all he has learned about Supt Taylor "it probably wouldn't surprise me anything he said."

Mr Callinan said he was "shocked and alarmed" by a newspaper article by John Mooney giving details of the statement from Mr Boucher-Hayes appearing within days.

The tribunal resumes on Monday, when Mr Callinan will continue his evidence.

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