Former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan has told the Disclosures Tribunal that his use of the word “disgusting” before a public accounts committee hearing was “isolated and misconstrued” in media reports.
The tribunal is examining allegations by former Garda press officer Superintendent David Taylor that he was directed by Mr Callinan to brief the media negatively on whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
In January 2014, Mr Callinan appeared before the Oireachtas committee and was questioned about the penalty points controversy.
Tribunal barrister Patrick Marrinan said that “the use of the word ‘disgusting’ caused a media storm. You were put under the cosh immediately.”
“I was, yes,” said Mr Callinan.
Mr Callinan said the word was not directed personally at whistleblowers, but at the manner in which issues were highlighted. “It is a very strong term, but I have very strong feelings in that regard,” he said.
Mr Callinan said there were “miles of articles since, pillorying me for criticising Sgt McCabe for reporting wrongdoing”.
“Sgt McCabe rightly reported wrongdoing and, indeed, he has proved to be correct in quite a number of the criticisms he identified.”
Mr Callinan said he would be “the first to acknowledge that Sgt McCabe identified weaknesses in the system”, and it would be hypocritical to say otherwise.
Mr Callinan said that 2.5% of penalty point notices were cancelled, which came to more than 10,000 notices per year. He said this amounted to fewer than two per week per Garda district.
“But of course there is no excuse for many of those cancellations that weren’t appropriate,” he said.
Mr Callinan said he did not agree to a suggestion to make a clarifying statement or do a radio interview with Sean O’Rourke, suggested by the Garda’s civilian director of communications, Andrew McLindon.
“I felt that I would be seen to be making excuses and it might just fan the problem,” said Mr Callinan.
The month before Mr Callinan’s appearance at the committee, he was scheduled to appear on an RTÉ Crimeline programme, and beforehand he spoke with journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes.
In advance of his appearance, Garda HQ gave RTÉ a list of topics to be discussed on the programme. Mr Callinan understood RTÉ also wanted to include the penalty points controversy, rural station closures, and the Smithwick tribunal.
In RTÉ, Mr Boucher-Hayes told the commissioner he was
“disappointed”, and said he believed Mr Callinan should engage with the topics.
Mr Callinan told the tribunal he had already engaged with the topics at a press conference with the minister, and did not feel the programme was an appropriate venue.
The commissioner said no when Mr Boucher-Hayes asked if he would answer questions about Garda whistleblowers. “I think everybody was aware of Sgt McCabe’s complaints at that stage,” said Mr Callinan.
Mr Callinan said his understanding, going to RTÉ, was that the question of what topics he would cover had already been resolved.
In a statement to the tribunal, Mr Boucher-Hayes said Mr Callinan gave him “a negative but cursory impression of John Wilson”, and spoke “at some length on Maurice McCabe’s character”.
Mr Boucher-Hayes said Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was “a troubled individual”, and had “a lot of psychological issues and psychiatric reports”.
“I wouldn’t talk about any member of An Garda Síochána like that,” said Mr Callinan.
Earlier in the day, Mr Callinan also said that he did not seek to undermine the public accounts committee when he met with chairman John McGuinness in a hotel car park the day after he appeared at a hearing to answer questions about the penalty points scandal.
Mr Callinan said he was concerned at the precedent that would be set if a serving garda appeared before the committee and about private information on penalty points becoming public.
Mr Callinan said Mr McGuinness asked him why Sgt McCabe was raising these issues and “was it because of the file sent to the DPP”.
Mr Callinan said he told Mr McGuinness that if he knew about the file, then he knew what the DPP had decided.
Following a Garda investigation into allegations by Miss D in 2006, the DPP directed no prosecution. “The incident that she describes does not constitute a sexual assault or indeed an assault,” the DPP wrote at the time.
Mr Callinan said he had never seen the DPP’s direction until the tribunal sent it to him, and agreed that the allegation was ‘utterly dismissed’.
The tribunal continues next week.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved