These are strange days indeed for An Garda Síochána, and things got a little stranger yesterday in Dublin Castle.
The Disclosures Tribunal heard about a former press officer in the force who had 11,000 contacts with journalists over a three-month period AFTER he had left the press office.
While the man in question, Superintendent Dave Taylor, may have been a font of information outside the press office, those within it apparently knew next to nothing about the whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
The tribunal, which is examining allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, was given an insight into some crazy goings-on.
Supt Taylor had been press officer in 2012-14, when Martin Callinan was commissioner. Supt Taylor has alleged that Mr Callinan instructed him to brief the media with the malicious and false information that Sgt McCabe was a child abuser.
The tribunal has already heard from other witnesses — TD John McGuinness and comptroller and auditor general Seamus McCarthy — that Mr Callinan had told them that very thing, but Mr Callinan denies this.
Mr Callinan resigned in March 2014 under the weight of garda scandals and, soon after, his successor, Nóirín O’Sullivan, transferred Supt Taylor out of the press office.
We have heard that Supt Taylor was “bitter” about this. His two immediate predecessors had been promoted on leaving the office. Supt Taylor, by contrast, was transferred to traffic, which one witness said he felt was a demotion.
Meanwhile, an investigation was launched in July 2014 into a separate matter: The leaking of information about a Roma child who was taken into care the previous year.
Chief Supt Francis Clerkin was appointed to investigate this matter.
Supt Taylor was fingered as a person of interest in the investigation. In December 2014, Chief Supt Clerkin asked him to hand over his phone.
When the phone was analysed, it was discovered that there had been more than 11,000 contacts between Supt Taylor and journalists in the three months up to December 2014.
One journalist, Eavan Murray of The Irish Sun, accounted for nearly a quarter of all those contacts. This was at a time when Supt Taylor was not authorised to have any contact with journalists.
Chief Supt Clerkin told the tribunal that his team collated a number of the calls with exclusive stories written by Ms Murray of The Irish Sun.
These included stories about rapes, robberies, and burglaries and incidents involving high-profile people. This information broadened the investigation into Supt Taylor.
Now, they were examining whether he had been leaking all over the place at a time when he was no longer a press officer.
Supt Taylor was apparently pining for his old job. The level of leaking, though, is staggering. The data suggests he had, on average, 100 contacts a day with a small number of journalists.
“He was no longer a press officer, but he appeared to be acting as a press officer,” Chief Supt Clerkin told the tribunal.
“He appeared to have been running a parallel press office,” counsel for senior gardaí, Micheal O’Higgins, put to him.
“He certainly provided a lot of information to certain journalists,” the witness replied. Later, Chief Supt Clerkin said: “I felt it was outrageous what he [Taylor] was doing.”
In May 2015, Supt Taylor was arrested and questioned, the highest ranking officer ever to be subjected to this indignity. He told them nothing.
The ultimate outcome of Chief Supt Clerkin’s investigation is that a file went to the DPP recommending that Supt Taylor be charged over 37 leaks of garda information.
There was also a recommendation that he be charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act, on the basis that he may have received assistance from Ms Murray of The Irish Sun.
What has any of this to do with an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe?
While he was suspended, awaiting the result from the DPP, Supt Taylor made a protected disclosure, alleging he had, on direction from Mr Callinan, briefed negatively about Sgt McCabe to reporters back in 2013 and 2014.
He implicated Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan in his allegations. Whether the investigation into his own activities had anything to do with his protected disclosure is something the tribunal must consider.
In that vein, Judge Peter Charleton put it to Chief Supt Clerkin, “the net result was he [Taylor] didn’t like her [O’Sullivan] and he was somewhat bitter?” The witness agreed.
Meanwhile, back in the garda press office, it would appear that nobody knew very much about Sgt McCabe when he was plastered across the news.
Six former and current civilian staff in the office told the tribunal they had never heard the rumours about Sgt McCabe — which were entirely false — that had circulated about him in 2013 and 2014.
John McGuinness has already given evidence that these rumours were rife in Leinster House at the time.
The press office staff never really talked about Sgt McCabe or his background among themselves.
This was at a time when their boss, Supt Taylor, claims he was spreading lies about Sgt McCabe on behalf of Mr Callinan.
It’s all very strange, but by now we’re all getting used to strange goings-on within An Garda Síochána.
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