By Gerard Cunningham
RTÉ journalist Paul Reynolds has told the Charleton tribunal that he did not believe that sources were “pouring poison in his ear” or negatively briefing him, when they spoke to him about a historic allegation made against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Mr Reynolds was questioned over notes he had taken during conversations in preparation for an RTÉ broadcast on 9 May 2016. The broadcast concerned the leaked O'Higgins Commission report into complaints made by Sgt McCabe about policing in the Cavan-Monaghan garda division.
The tribunal is required to look at whether former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan influenced or attempted to influence the RTÉ broadcasts, "in which Sgt McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible."
The notes contained references to a 2006 allegation against Sgt McCabe of sexual abuse, which was investigated and dismissed by the DPP the following year, saying there was no evidence of a crime.
Mr Reynolds agreed this allegation had nothing to do with the O'Higgins commission, but the conversations were about policing issues in Bailieboro, where Sgt McCabe had been stationed.
"There was no persistent, consistent, deliberate hammering away, giving you this negative stuff about Sgt McCabe," Mr Reynolds went on.
Mr Reynolds said he made notes of the things he was told, but he had never used this information, and it was never broadcast.
Mr Reynolds said that rumours about Sgt McCabe were "around, in the ether", but he did not focus on them once he learned the DPP had dismissed the case.
"It wasn't being openly discussed, negatively, but people knew about it," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said that he did not consider being told facts about the investigation and DPP decision as negative, because he was being told facts. He said he had the greatest sympathy for Sgt McCabe.
"I'm before this tribunal today because three people have made false allegations against me," Mr Reynolds said.
"No matter what the tribunal decides, people will be discussing them for the next ten years."
"I certainly wasn't a party to any negative briefing, I didn't receive any negative briefing, and I didn't believe any of this stuff," Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds said the chairman should not rely on his notes on concluding anything because they contained "bits and bobs" he was told, and were never intended to be "pored over by a highly intelligent team of lawyers".
Michael McDowell SC, questioning Mr Reynolds on behalf of Sgt McCabe, said that the notes were contemporaneous, and recorded conversations Mr Reynolds had with people.
Barrister Noel Whelan said that a personal allegation against Ms O'Sullivan formed the basis of a term of reference of the tribunal.
Mr Whelan asked if Sgt Maurice McCabe was still alleging that former commissioner Ms O'Sullivan personally prepared briefing materials for Mr Reynolds before the broadcasts in May 2016.
Sgt McCabe had alleged that the RTÉ broadcasts with journalist Paul Reynolds were "planned and orchestrated" by Ms O'Sullivan personally, using briefing material prepared at Garda HQ.
Mr Whelan said that John Barrett, the civilian head of human resources for the force, who Sgt McCabe said was his source for the allegation, had given the tribunal a statement saying this did not happen.
Michael McDowell SC said he would seek instructions overnight from Sgt McCabe, who "was depending on a statement from Mr Barrett" in making the complaint.
"He can only go on what he is told," Mr McDowell said.
Stephen Rae, outgoing Independent New & Media group editor-in-chief, told the tribunal that it was important to check out stories, and often things were not what they were presented to be.
Mr Rae said he did not think the Miss D story, reported by Paul Williams, was coming from garda sources, as it was the D family who had approached Mr Williams.
Mr Rae said most coverage in Independent News & Media titles was positive to Sgt McCabe. He said he had never heard rumours about sexual allegations against Sgt McCabe.
Mr Rae went on to say that journalist Gemma O'Doherty was made compulsorily redundant during cost cutting measures, and not because she had called to the home of commissioner Martin Callinan to verify his home address.
Mr Rae said that after the incident, he spoke to Ms O'Doherty, and she apologised and "said she was chasing a hot story."
Mark Harty SC said Ms O'Doherty was made redundant two weeks later.
Mr Rae said that the group has to sell off overseas assets in South Africa and 29 people were laid off as "hard decisions had to be made" while the company "was pivoting towards digital”.
Rossa Fanning SC, representing Independent News & Media, said there was not a whit of evidence being given by any witness that Ms O'Doherty's dismissal had anything to do with any member of An Garda Síochána.