“Bizarre” and “astonishing” are words not often pulled from the judicial lexicon but both got an outing at the Disclosures Tribunal yesterday.
The matter at issue was the entanglement of the Garda commissioner in a legal action taken against celebrity solicitor, Dr Gerald Kean.
Prior to his appearance at the tribunal last week, Dr Kean’s most recent public outing was in Operation Celebrity Transformation, where he put in a fair to middling performance.
Yesterday the inquiry heard from Superintendent Frank Walsh, the former private secretary of former commissioner Martin Callinan. He related how a letter arrived by courier at Garda Headquarters in February 2014. It was from Dr Kean. There was a letter inside the letter, the latter a draft which had been prepared in response to a missive from Sgt Maurice McCabe.
The previous Sunday, Dr Kean had, on the Marian Finucane radio programme, accused Sgt McCabe of breaking Garda rules and the law.
Dr Kean said last week that he had a briefing from Mr Callinan the previous day where the commissioner told him Sgt McCabe had broken Garda rules and the law. There was no factual basis for these assertions. And on went the good doctor to the radio and repeated the defamatory statements.
Sgt McCabe wrote to Dr Kean looking for an explanation. And the doc composed a letter and sent it onto the commissioner to run his eyes over it before dispatching it to the sergeant. If all of that sounds bizarre and astonishing, you can see why those phrases were bandied about yesterday.
Poor Supt Walsh found himself in the middle of all this, delegated to sort it out. Yesterday, Judge Peter Charleton intervened in the evidence.
“The word bizarre may be bandied about but surely you were astonished,” he said to Supt Walsh.
Judge Charleton went on: “I can’t think of anything stranger. There has been a lot of strange things but this is really strange.”
The witness replied: “I wouldn’t say utterly astonished.”
Tribunal lawyer Pat Marrinan couldn’t get his head around it either.
“I’m not getting any flavour at all of just how bizarre this is. It just seems quite astonishing that a solicitor would request the Garda commissioner, who is the employer of Sgt McCabe, to help him draft a legal letter in response to a letter from Sgt McCabe.”
The witness replied: “Astonishing is not the word I would use. Most unusual and inappropriate.” All of which gives rise to the question of what exactly it would take in Garda HQ to elicit astonishment.
Anyway, the man was only doing his job. And in this instance that entailed receiving a handwritten “note” from the commissioner to be included in Dr Kean’s response to the understandably irate sergeant.
The note consisted of four paragraphs to be included in the doctor’s reply to McCabe. They were written in the first person, as if the commissioner actually was Dr Kean.
Supt Walsh was dispatched to Dr Kean’s office where he handed over the typed paragraphs which were inserted into the letter to Sgt McCabe.
All of this occurred in a context where Mr Callinan was vexed that Maurice McCabe was going to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to outline widespread corruption through the fixing of speeding tickets.
Nobody, least of all Sgt McCabe, was ever told that the commissioner had this involvement with the solicitor.
Supt Walsh was asked whether the commissioner was engaging with Dr Kean because of his attitude towards Sgt McCabe.
He said, no, but that the commissioner had mentioned that Dr Kean was a great supporter of the gardaí.
That brought the following intervention from Judge Charleton: “You can be a great supporter of the Dublin Gaelic football team and not draft letters on their behalf in response to libel letters addressed to them.”
We now know that the intervention had precious little effect. RTÉ settled the action with Sgt McCabe and former garda John Wilson.
The Irish Examiner reported last week that the payout was in excess of €180,000. If the matter had ever gone to court, presumably the commissioner’s involvement would have been revealed.
The tribunal adjourned yesterday until April 30, when, with any bit of luck, it will round the bend for home.
The break also gives a bit of time for everybody to get over their astonishment at what exactly they were getting up to in Garda HQ a few short years ago.
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