By Gerard Cunningham
RTÉ crime correspondent Paul Reynolds has told the Charleton tribunal his record speaks for itself in reporting on An Garda Síochána.
The tribunal is looking at whether former commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan influenced or attempted to influence RTÉ broadcasts on 9 May 2016 in which Mr Reynolds discussed the leaked O'Higgins Commission report into complaints by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Mr Reynolds said that he would ask whatever relevant questions needed to be asked when interviewing commissioners and that former Commissioner O'Sullivan had twice walked off during interviews, and RTÉ broadcast this.
"It's a lazy assumption and unfair to say that I would be soft on people," Mr Reynolds said.
"There are a number of interviews that have gone viral where I have asked difficult questions. My record speaks for itself, I will ask the hard questions when they need to be asked."
Mr Reynolds said he had a brief encounter with former commissioner Martin Callinan on the day Mr Callinan appeared before the Public Accounts Committee to address the penalty points controversy in January 2014.
"He shook his head and knew he shouldn't have said the word disgusting," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said the former commissioner "never spoke to me in any way derogatorily about Sgt McCabe."
In news reports broadcast on 9 May 2016, Mr Reynolds reported the O'Higgins Commission found Maurice McCabe acted out of "genuine concerns" but that allegations of corruption against a number of senior gardaí were "unfounded".
Reports also stated there was not a "scintilla" of evidence that Mr Callinan was corrupt, and said that Sgt McCabe "told a lie".
Mr Reynolds said the evening before the first Morning Ireland report, he tried to contact Sgt McCabe and left a message, but Sgt McCabe did not respond.
Sgt McCabe contacted RTÉ by phone and through his solicitor after the broadcasts to complain that the reports said he had "lied".
"I knew it would be controversial because it's a big step to accuse someone of telling a lie," Mr Reynolds said.
The Commission said Sgt McCabe told "an untruth" to his superior, Supt Michael Clancy, and Mr Reynolds said he consulted two dictionaries which defined an untruth as a lie.
"I'm very sure we put it in the context that Justice O'Higgins said Sgt McCabe was nothing less than truthful in his evidence to the commission," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said the responsibility of journalists was not to use parliamentary and diplomatic language they were given.
Mr Reynolds said he obtained copies of the O'Higgins report from more than one source so that he could be sure he had the final copy and not draft versions. Mr Reynolds said he was claiming privilege over who gave him the copies.
"I think the reports speak for themselves and if you compare the broadcasts with the final published report you can see that the broadcasts correlate with the report," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said the scripts for his reports "were put through the full rigours of the RTÉ editorial process" and were looked at by several editors and "went right up to the top" including then acting director general Kevin Bakhurst.
"I also thought the allegations of garda corruption was a huge issue," Mr Reynolds said. He said there were allegations made "against the highest police officer in the state" and four other senior officers."
"Whatever I was preparing was being seen by my news editor, by different editors in Morning Ireland, News at One, online news, and television news broadcasts at 1pm, 6pm and 9pm," Mr Reynold said.
"There is a chef news editor I was in correspondence with all week in relation to this, the managing editor of news above him, and then there is the acting director general," Mr Reynolds said.
The tribunal saw several email exchanges between Mr Reynolds and news editors over the weekend before the news reports were broadcast.
In one such exchange, chief news editor Ray Burke wrote that "it is certain that you and RTÉ News will be subject to suspicion that we are favouring the Gardai and therefore biased against McCabe" when suggesting editing changes in preparing the reports.
"In fairness to Ray his antenna were up," Mr Reynolds said.
Another email from managing editor Hilary McGouran advised Mr Reynolds:
"I thought it was good advice," Mr Reynolds said. "I thought it was vitally important I not be seen to be on anybody's side and that I just report factually and accurately the findings."
Mr Reynolds was asked about an email from Mr Burke on avoiding bias and clarifying that an accusation of corruption against Mr Callinan was unfounded, which said "I think a lead-in like that does not put the boot into Sgt McCabe straight away”.
Mr Reynolds said the language used in exchanges was often "unparliamentary and robust", and "certainly not language that was intended to be pored over by teams of lawyers”.
Mr Reynolds said that in the context of the entire exchange, Mr Burke had meant that the reports had to make it clear that RTÉ were not making criticisms, that they were reporting the findings of the O'Higgins commission.
"Everything we had to put on air had to be straight from the report," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said it never made sense to him that Sgt McCabe might be motivated by bitterness because of a garda investigation into sexual abuse allegations, "because he was exonerated".
"My belief was that his [McCabe's] motivation was genuine and legitimate and he was pursuing these cases," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said that in speaking to people while preparing for his report on the O'Higgins commission, various people praised Sgt McCabe, and called him "a committed and diligent station sergeant”.
"This was positive briefing, if you like," Mr Reynolds said.
The tribunal continues this afternoon.
- Digital Desk