Two whistleblowers, one story, but very different versions to the point of being irreconcilable, writes Michael Clifford.
Yesterday, a chasm opened up between Maurice McCabe and Superintendent David Taylor over what transpired when they met in an emotionally charged meeting, which led all the way to Dublin Castle.
It was McCabe’s second day in the witness box, after at least five years as a public figure who had never been heard in public before Monday. His appearance yesterday saw the public gallery in George’s Hall thickening and even overflowing. Seated in the front row of the gallery, having nipped in just before 10am, was Dave Taylor. He was more than just a curious visitor.
On Monday, Sgt McCabe outlined a meeting he had with Taylor at the latter’s home in September 2016. This was characterised as a form of confession on Taylor’s part for his role in what he described as an “orchestrated campaign” to impugn McCabe’s character when Taylor was head of the Garda press office. The alleged campaign involved briefing politicians and journalists that McCabe had engaged in child sexual abuse.
“I destroyed you,” McCabe said on Monday that Taylor had told him at the meeting. That was the first occasion on which they had met. Within days of it, both men made protected disclosures about an alleged campaign to blacken McCabe’s character but their versions of what transpired between them differs greatly. This is vitally important for a public inquiry charged with examining whether or not there was an orchestrated campaign to attack a Garda whistleblower.
Yesterday, counsel for Taylor, Tara Burns, put it to McCabe that he “misremembered” or was mistaken about what Taylor told him. She said Taylor says that there was not a smear campaign through text messages.
“I have to agree to disagree with you,” McCabe said.
It was also put to him that his claim on Monday that Taylor said at the meeting Nóirín O’Sullivan was “the pusher” in the agenda against McCabe was not accurate. McCabe replied that that was a term he would not have come up with himself.
“He [Taylor] said the word pusher and I wrote that down,” he said. He held firm to his position on what he says transpired at the meeting.
“It’s his word against mine at this stage,” the sergeant said.
What has been left unclear is what exactly Taylor’s position is.
The tribunal was told he has made three statements, and there had been a “softening” in his position in some respects but also that he still maintains that “Nóirín O’Sullivan knew everything” (that was being orchestrated against McCabe).
Ms Burns did not put to McCabe what exactly Taylor’s position is, or what he is alleging or to whom he is ascribing responsibility for any alleged campaign. The suspension of those details ensures that his evidence will be even more eagerly awaited. He is the key witness in this module, which is investigating whether or not there was a campaign directed from Garda HQ to smear Sgt McCabe.
It now looks likely that he will face robust challenge from counsel for both Garda management and McCabe.
The longest cross-examination yesterday came from counsel for garda management, Shane Murphy.
He forensically went through various documentation, knitting together threads which, he suggested, illustrated how McCabe had either exaggerated, invented or was mistaken in a number of his claims against senior officers.
He was asked about the row at the O’Higgins commission when McCabe and his legal team believed they were under attack from then commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. At that time he produced a recording he had made of a seven-year-old meeting which, he felt, was being used to discredit him.
Mr Murphy pointed out to him that a report presented to the commission agreed with the recording, and the recording did not save him as the “popular narrative” had it.
“It is in my heart that I think if I hadn’t the version [recording] of the Mullingar meeting it would have been serious for me…I was in trouble.” His evidence finished with examination from his own counsel, Michael McDowell, which disputed much of what had been put to him by Mr Murphy.
Before he left the witness box, McCabe was asked by Judge Peter Charleton whether he would want to appeal to anybody to come forward who could help determine whether there had been a campaign against him. He replied that he would.
This was directed at journalists in particular, but could also include politicians.
At the end of his two days of evidence, McCabe left the witness box with his reputation intact. His testimony had been largely cautious. When in doubt, he tended to say that he’d leave things up to the chairman to decide. He defended his position but kept his answers brief, something that is advisable if one is under cross-examination.
Now he must sit back and see what evidence will be brought forward over the coming months to determine whether or not there was an orchestrated campaign conducted against him by senior gardaí through politics and the media.