The Disclosures Tribunal was treated to a splash of celebrity yesterday, but the tidings brought further troubling detail of how An Garda Síochána operated at the highest level.
Gerald Kean is a celebrity solicitor and bon vivant. He got drawn into the garda whistleblower matter over an appearance on the Marian Finucane radio show in January 2014.
At the time, a raging controversy was blowing over an appearance at the Public Accounts Committee the previous week by then garda commissioner Martin Callinan.
Sergeant Maurice McCabe was scheduled to give evidence the following week about abuses in the penalty points system. Mr Callinan was known to be vehemently opposed to Sgt McCabe’s appearance before the committee.
Sandwiched between these two appearances, and into the controversy, was Dr Kean. (He signs his official correspondence “Dr” as he has received an honorary award from a US university.)
On the day before his radio appearance, he contacted Mr Callinan. Over the course of a series of phonecalls, the commissioner briefed him about Sgt McCabe.
According to Mr Kean, the commissioner described Sgt McCabe as “troublesome, obstructive, unco-operative” and that he didn’t co-operate with an internal garda inquiry into his complaints.
Mr Kean also alleges that Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe — and former garda John Wilson — had breached data protection laws. All such allegations would in time be shown to have had no basis in fact.
But Mr Kean accepted what he was being told because he “believed the commissioner was above reproach”. At least three times yesterday Mr Kean stated that he had believed at the time that Mr Callinan was above reproach.
Over the course of that Saturday, there was a series of phonecalls between Mr Kean and Mr Callinan that amounted to nearly an hour’s conversation.
They had only ever met once prior to that, although Mr Kean had invited Mr Callinan to a dinner party at “Drayton Manor” (apparently the name of the good doctor’s abode) but the commissioner couldn’t make it.
Anyway, the outcome of their conversations was that Mr Kean went on the programme, presented Mr Callinan’s views and opinions without revealing where they had come from, and in the course of doing so defamed Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson.
On air, Mr Kean said he had “contacted guards from all over the county, I spoke to 13 or 14 members of the force” the previous day, to gauge opinion within the force.
“You spoke to the head of the force and why didn’t you mention that to the people of Ireland?” tribunal lawyer Diarmaid McGuinness put it to him.
“The commissioner asked me not to,” Mr Kean replied. He said his extensive opinion gathering within the force was conducted the previous day when he attended his local station in Wicklow about a motor tax issue and he rang some others.
The lawyer persisted with his point.
“I didn’t see that at the time,” Mr Kean replied. “I believed I had access to somebody who was beyond reproach.”
During the programme, Sgt McCabe contacted RTÉ to point out that untruths were being uttered about him on air. Afterwards, he wrote to Mr Kean. The celebrity solicitor sent a draft of his reply to Sgt McCabe to the garda commissioner.
Sometime after that, the commissioner’s private secretary, Superintendent Frank Walsh, attended at Mr Kean’s office with some adjustments for the letter.
Four paragraphs, composed by Mr Callinan, were inserted into the letter. In order words, a solicitor responding to an accusation that he had defamed a serving garda responded in a missive that was partially composed by the garda commissioner.
And Mr Kean did not inform Sgt McCabe or anybody else that he was acting in concert with the commissioner.
The Irish Examiner understands that the matter was eventually settled with Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson through the payment of over €180,000 in damages and costs.
Later in yesterday’s evidence, Mr Kean claimed that he had been “used” by Mr Callinan.
“I believe in hindsight that he used me to promote a position which supported his stance in the matter and which in my opinion was incorrect and I ended up in the firing line.”
Paul McGarry, lawyer for Sgt McCabe, put it to Mr Kean that he had been provided with information about internal garda matters by the commissioner.
“Did you think it odd?” Kean replied: “No, he’d given it [the information] to the minister a few months before that.”
That was an odd reply. The witness drew an equivalence between the commissioner providing information about garda matters to the minister for justice with doing so to a private citizen.
Mr Callinan’s lawyer Micheal O’Higgins put it to Mr Kean that much of the information was already in the public domain, and that Mr Callinan had not referenced Sgt McCabe personally.
“He [Callinan] did not disclose any personal information, he did not make any derogatory remarks about Sgt McCabe?” the lawyer suggested.
“That’s not correct,” Mr Kean replied.
He was followed in the witness box by Noel Brett, the former chief executive of the Road Safety Association. Mr Brett related that he had met with Sgt McCabe about the penalty points abuse and he had referred the allegations to the Comptroller and Auditor General and GSOC.
Mr Brett was asked about allegations that he had been involved in a heated meeting with Martin Callinan about Sgt McCabe.
He replied that he never discussed Sgt McCabe with Mr Callinan but he had been involved in a heated meeting with the commissioner which had prompted him and chairman Gay Byrne to walk out of the meeting.
“In my mind, I probably felt I was being treated like that [by Callinan] because I was the one who had made the referral to GSOC and the C&AG,” said Mr Brett.
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