By Gerard Cunningham
A Daily Mail journalist has told the Charleton Tribunal that she believed a colleague who allegedly told her a garda whistleblower was a child abuser was “being used” by somebody.
Journalist Alison O'Reilly said that Debbie McCann told her former garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and Press Officer Supt Dave Taylor had confirmed negative information about whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Ms O'Reilly said that she had several conversations with her colleague about the penalty points scandal. Ms McCann had penalty points quashed and was concerned her own name would appear in a newspaper, as her father was a senior garda, Ms O'Reilly testified.
The tribunal is examining allegations by Supt Taylor, the former head of the garda Press Office, that he was directed to brief the media negatively on whistleblower Sgt McCabe by former Commissioner Martin Callinan, and that former Commissioner Ms O'Sullivan was aware of this.
Both former commissioners deny this, and Supt Taylor has said he did not give negative briefings to Ms McCann.
Ms O'Reilly said that Ms McCann said to her that Sgt McCabe was a child abuser, telling her "he abused a child that's now an adult. Everybody knows. All the guards know."
The tribunal has previously heard that Ms McCann denies having the conversations with Ms O'Reilly.
Ms O'Reilly said she was suspicious about the allegation, and did not understand why Sgt McCabe would put himself out in the public with penalty points allegations if he had “got away with something like that”.
Ms O'Reilly said she later learned Ms McCann had obtained the name of the girl who was abused, and asked where Ms McCann obtained the name.
"She said the gardaí. She said somebody high up in the gardaí, her dad had confirmed the story, she heard it from Dave Taylor, she heard it from Nóirín O'Sullivan," Ms O'Reilly said.
Ms O'Reilly said that she did not learn Miss D's name, and still did not know it.
Ms O'Reilly said that she arranged to meet with former garda John Wilson, and told him she was hearing rumours that Sgt McCabe was motivated by malice, and there were allegations of abuse.
Mr Wilson told Ms O'Reilly the allegations were untrue and arranged for Ms O'Reilly to meet with Sgt McCabe. Ms O'Reilly said Sgt McCabe also denied the rumours, and appeared very distressed.
"I had nothing other than my gut feeling and what John Wilson and Maurice McCabe were saying to me," Ms O'Reilly said.
Ms O'Reilly said that she believed Ms McCann was being used.
Ms O'Reilly said that Ms McCann told her that she met with Miss D, and that Miss D "was in an awful state, she was visibly shaking recalling the story, and then she outlined the story".
Tribunal barrister Patrick Marrinan SC said that Miss D in her evidence said that the only journalist she had spoken to was Paul Williams.
"She (Ms McCann) either wasn't telling the truth then or she's not telling the truth now. That is what she told me," Ms O'Reilly said.
Ms O'Reilly said she was later told that the Miss D story would not be published, and that editor Sebastian Hamilton had "put a stop to it".
Some time later, Ms McCann told Ms O'Reilly that Miss D was going to meet with Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny, Ms O'Reilly testified.
"I thought to myself maybe you've got this wrong completely, he's going to end up in jail," she told the tribunal. She said that Ms McCann told her that her information was coming from "the top".
"I just said who did you hear this from, your pal Nóirín? She said yes," Ms O'Reilly said.
Ms O'Reilly said that the story seemed to die out, and "the big dramatic ending never came”.
Ms O'Reilly said she later asked her news editor Robert Cox if she could do a story on whistleblowers.
"He said they didn't want any negative stories because it would piss off the gardaí and they'd stop giving Debbie stories," Ms O'Reilly said.