Day finally comes for Maurice McCabe to be heard

As Maurice McCabe enters the witness box at the Disclosures Tribunal, will another series of errors be given as explanation for him appearing to be under attack, asks Michael Clifford

THE Disclosures Tribunal enters the bend for home this morning. The last module in the public inquiry into the alleged smearing of Sergeant Maurice McCabe begins today with evidence from the man himself.

This module, broadly known as the media module, will examine whether there were attempts to smear Sgt McCabe directed from Garda HQ.

It will also run the rule over an RTÉ broadcast of a leaked version of the O’Higgins Inquiry, which Sgt McCabe claims was woefully biased and designed to discredit him.

The allegations are denied by both garda management and the personnel in RTÉ involved in the broadcast.

There will be evidence from a number of high-profile figures who claim they were told by former commissioner Martin Callinan that Sgt McCabe had questions to answer in relation to child sexual abuse.

This is completely untrue, but formed the basis for much of the alleged campaign of smearing of Sgt McCabe, who had made a series of complaints of malpractice within the force. 

Mr Callinan denies the claims that he said anything to that effect, but at least three figures — Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, the comptroller and auditor Seamus McCarthy, and RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes — all claim that Mr Callinan did convey this information to them individually.

Sgt McCabe will be heard in public for the first time when he enters the witness box.

He is scheduled to give evidence for at least a day and a half, but this may well be extended, depending on what he has to say and to what extent he might be challenged.

He will be examined on his knowledge and the effect of various events on him and his family, related to all three modules of the inquiry.

This will include how he came to know about the generation of a false allegation of child rape against him within the child and family agency, Tusla, in 2013, and how it was dealt with.

The tribunal has already heard that the generation and processing of the false allegation was down to a series of errors within the agency.

There was also evidence of how management in An Garda Síochána failed to inform Sgt McCabe about the false allegation once it came into their possession.

He will also be asked about his role in and knowledge of what occurred in the O’Higgins commission in 2015, when he felt compelled to produce a recording of a meeting from 2008 which he claimed exposed an attempt by senior gardaí to smear him at the commission.

The tribunal has already heard there was an error in a crucial document prepared by senior gardaí and lawyers for O’Higgins, which was at the heart of the dispute.

He is also expected to give evidence on how he came into contact with Superintendent David Taylor, the former head of the garda press office.

Both men subsequently provided protected disclosures in which Supt Taylor admitted his role in a campaign to smear Sgt McCabe.

Supt Taylor has claimed he was acting on orders from Mr Callinan and that Nóirín O’Sullivan was aware of the campaign.

Both former garda commissioners deny this allegation.

Supt Taylor will be a central figure in this module.

He was head of the garda press office between 2012 and 2014, when animosity towards Sgt McCabe from elements within the force was at its height.

He claims that he briefed journalists negatively about the sergeant, with particular emphasis on the allegations of child sexual abuse.

Supt Taylor says that this was done at the behest of then-commissioner Mr Callinan.

After Mr Callinan resigned in March 2014, Supt Taylor was transferred from the press office by Mr Callinan’s successor, Ms O’Sulllivan. He was subsequently suspended and arrested as a part of a criminal investigation into the leaking of the names of two Roma children who were at the centre of a media storm in 2013.

The DPP came to the conclusion that Supt Taylor had no case to answer.

While he was suspended, Ms O’Sullivan ordered that he also be the subject of a disciplinary investigation, which was conducted in parallel with the criminal investigation. 

That also came to naught.

By the time Supt Taylor made his protected disclosure in October 2016, he says he was under the impression that elements in senior management were out to get him.

His evidence will be fascinating, as will the evidence related to his phone records and text messages, all of which are expected to feature.

The media will also come under the spotlight.

Taylor, O’Sullivan, and Callinan have all waived any privilege as a source for journalists, in order to assist the tribunal’s work. This puts the journalists concerned in a delicate position, as they can’t claim privilege on these sources, but may well resort to invoking a broader journalistic principle of refusing to discuss anything to do with sources, irrespective of the sources waiving privilege.

The hearings are facing into a stop-start period between now and Easter, but are expected to conclude towards the end of April.

It will also be fascinating to observe whether or not another series of errors or misunderstandings is encountered in this module. So far, in both the Tusla and O’Higgins modules, much of what occurred to give the impression that Sgt McCabe was under attack has been pitched as error.

A whole litany of errors uncovered in both modules involve child protection personnel, senior gardaí, and lawyers, all of whom were engaged in serious work for the State.

None of the errors that were highlighted at the tribunal went to Sgt McCabe’s credit.

All of them involved him being cast in a nefarious manner, which presumably is just down to coincidence.

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