By Gerard Cunningham
Diary records show that former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was in London on the day a garda HR executive says she attended a meeting, after which he was told they were “going after” whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
John Barrett, the executive director of Human Resources with An Garda Síochána, told the Charleton Tribunal today that he had a meeting with senior garda civil servant Cyril Dunne and Ms O'Sullivan.
He said he was then asked to stay behind by Mr Dunne, who then told him "we are going after him [McCabe] in the commission”.
Mr Barrett said he believed this meeting happened on May 13, 2015, the day before the O'Higgins Commission sat for the first time to hear evidence. Mr Barrett said he did not make a note of this at the time, which he regretted in hindsight.
Mr Barrett said he appreciated there was confusion in that diary records showed that Ms O'Sullivan was in London on this date.
"That's not confusion, Mr Barrett. You say a meeting took place that Nóirín O'Sullivan couldn't have been at," said Conor Dignam SC, representing the garda commissioner.
"I understand the conflict," Mr Barrett said.
In its current module, the Charleton tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by former commissioner O'Sullivan to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation.
The commission, which sat in private in 2015, investigated complaints made by Sgt McCabe about certain policing matters and about serious allegations against senior officers, including former commissioner, Martin Callinan.
Mr Barrett said he had expected that Mr Dunne would also recall the meeting. Mr Dunne denies ever making the comment to Mr Barrett.
Tribunal barrister, Diarmaid McGuinness SC, said that Mr Barrett had arrived at May 13 as the likely date of the meeting by "a process of exclusion".
Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said that in his initial correspondence to the tribunal in April 2017, Mr Barrett had not given a date for the meeting with Mr Dunne. He said that May 13, 2015, "happened to be a very significant date." The O'Higgins commission held its first hearings the following day.
Questioned by Michael McDowell SC, on behalf of Sgt McCabe, Mr Barrett said he had not been asked by any investigator at any point about the meeting date until he began his evidence yesterday.
Asked if the conversation had taken place at all, Mr Barrett said: "It is a very clear recollection of a statement being made by my boss to me.
"It jarred with the work that essentially was underway for three months in my office to try and build a bridge to create a new engagement with Sgt McCabe. The work at that point in May was, in my opinion, beginning to show imminent results. I was therefore surprised this would be shared with me," Mr Barrett said.
Mr Barrett said he had a good relationship with Mr Dunne, who was the person who had hired him. He said he had spoken with Chief Supt Tony McLoughlin about what Mr Dunne had said to him.
Mr Dignam, on behalf of the garda commissioner, said that Mr Barrett had not made a record of Mr Dunne's alleged comment in detailed minutes he had taken during meetings with Sgt McCabe in 2015 and 2016.
Mr Barrett said he had to keep "a very real Chinese wall" about what his boss said to him. He said his minutes of meetings with Sgt McCabe were about recording the sergeant's voice accurately as part of a process of building trust.
"I didn't ever appreciate that this issue of the actual timing of the statement would overshadow what was said to me," Mr Barrett said.
Mr Barrett said he regretted not making a comprehensive note of Mr Dunne's comments, and if he could relive the events, he "would have done it much more formally, protested more formally".
The tribunal continues.