Comment: Garda under pressuer to stand up his claims

Dave Taylor spent a second day with his back to the wall yesterday, writes Michael Clifford.

The garda superintendent was under constant pressure from different lawyers to stand up the most serious of allegations that he has made against two former garda commissioners.

The tribunal is sitting on foot of a protected disclosure he made in September 2016 in which he alleges that as head of the Garda press office in 2013 and 2014 he orchestrated a smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.

This, he claims, was done on the direction of Martin Callinan and with the knowledge of his then deputy, Nóirín O’Sullivan. Never before have officers of such seniority in the guards been the subject of such serious allegations.

But where’s the beef? He has provided the names of 11 journalists who he claims to have briefed negatively about McCabe. All of those either deny it or are claiming journalistic privilege on any contact they had with Supt Taylor. Initially, he provided nine names and then added another two, Debbie McCann and Eavan Murray, both of whom had extensive contact with him in the time period being examined.

Following legal argument at the outset of yesterday’s hearing, chairman Judge Peter Charleton issued a general warming: “The process I’m engaged in is deadly serious and supposed to be in the national interest and I expect people to be absolutely straight.”

Most of the day was spent probing the credibility of Supt Taylor’s allegations. Thus far, despite extensive inquiries by the tribunal, there is no direct corroboration of his story.

One theme explored was his motivation for making the allegation. In September 2016, he was suspended and the subject of a criminal investigation into leaks from the force. It was not, at that point, clear as to whether he would face prosecution.

Yesterday, tribunal lawyer, Diarmuid McGuinness, asked him: “Did you make the protected disclosure because all of these things were in the balance?”

Supt Taylor replied: “I made it because I wanted to do the right thing.”

He expanded: “When I had removed myself from the hothouse of Garda culture I realised it (orchestrating a smear campaign) was wrong.

In fact, he had not removed himself but was removed through suspension.

Later, Michael McDowell, counsel for Sgt McCabe, brought Supt Taylor through the protected disclosure that his client made at the same time as Taylor’s and based on a conversation he had with Supt Taylor.

The witness agreed with Sgt McCabe’s statement

that he, Supt Taylor, had seen a “spiritual person”. However, Supt Taylor denied that this experience was the reason he had decided to come clean.

There was much else Sgt McCabe says he was told by Supt Taylor which the latter disputes.

Maurice McCabe

He also disputes what TD Mick Wallace says was conveyed to him. Mr Wallace claims that Supt Taylor told him of Nóirín O’Sullivan: “When she’s sitting and she moves her seated position, she’s telling a lie.” The alleged reference was to how the former commissioner had handled herself before the Oireachtas justice committee, of which Mr Wallace is a member. Supt Taylor denies this.

Yesterday’s hearing also raked over various statements and allegations that Supt Taylor has made to various people — including this reporter — which he now disputes he ever made.

In the witness box over the last two days, Supt Taylor has been under serious pressure over these conflicts and the lack of detail about how he actually did negatively brief journalists about Sgt McCabe.

An issue also arises about the list of journalists he claims to have briefed.

The addition of the reporters, Ms McCann and Ms Murray, to the original list was broached by senior counsel Sean Gillane for RTÉ.

He pointed out to Supt Taylor that there is evidence of extensive contact and some detail of his interactions with these two journalists.

Yet, the lawyer said, that not only were they not on the original list, but, “your first mention of them is halfway through your interview (with tribunal investigators)?”

Mr Gillane persisted: “Is it the situation that being on that original list or being off it is something of pot luck?

“Absolutely not,” Supt Taylor replied.

Mr Gillane then asked Supt Taylor to confirm that he had never actually met RTÉ reporter, John Burke, who is on the list. Supt Taylor confirmed this and the lawyer went on: “He is someone you never met who winds up on your list yet Ms McCann and Ms Murray stay off your list?”

Supt Taylor replied that it was always his intention to give all the information to the inquiry.

What has emerged over the last two days is that Supt Taylor has very little to corroborate his allegation and very much lined up against him to dispute his claims. His credibility is thus far, to a large extent, reliant on his willingness to implicate himself in the alleged campaign against Sgt McCabe. He faces into a third day in the witness box today.

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