Michael Clifford on Disclosures Tribunal: It appears no one in press office knew a thing

The Disclosures Tribunal is on the home stretch, but there’s no knowing how long it might take to arrive, writes Michael Clifford.

Michael Clifford on Disclosures Tribunal: It appears no one in press office knew a thing

The Disclosures Tribunal is on the home stretch, but there’s no knowing how long it might take to arrive, writes Michael Clifford.

Yesterday, the inquiry’s final module got up and running. At issue is whether or not there was an orchestrated campaign in Garda HQ to blacken Maurice McCabe’s character in the most grievous manner.

This is alleged to have involved spreading false and malicious rumours that the Cavan-based sergeant was a child abuser. And all because — allegedly — he was highlighting abuses and malpractice in the force.

In effect, this is the Dave Taylor module. Supt Taylor is the former head of the Garda press office. After a drastic change in fortunes, during which he was suspended, arrested and investigated for leaking material to the media, he made a protected disclosure in which he alleged he had been part of an orchestrated campaign against Sgt McCabe.

He claims to have been acting on the orders of then commissioner Martin Callinan and with the knowledge of his then deputy, Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Yesterday, the tribunal opened with evidence from former and serving press officers in Garda HQ. Retired Supt Paul Moran succeeded Taylor in the press office in 2014.

He brought the tribunal through how the office operates. During his time there, he didn’t hear anything about Sgt Maurice McCabe. He says he received a hand-over from Taylor, but there was no mention of Sgt McCabe.

He did say that Taylor appeared to be “bitter” about having to leave the press office. Taylor was transferred out of the office by Nóirín O’Sullivan who took over from Callinan when the latter retired prematurely in the midst of various controversies in March 2014.

The comment on Taylor being “bitter” is important. Taylor is making allegations about Nóirín O’Sullivan’s knowledge of the alleged smear campaign. If it was shown that he was bitter towards the new commissioner, it may throw a different light on his allegations concerning her.

The second witness was Supt John Ferris, the head of the Garda corporate communications office. He served as Taylor’s deputy in the press office between 2012-14. Their relationship was “professional”, but not close.

Supt Ferris arrived in one morning to the office he shared with Taylor. “I came in and found my desk upside down in three parts on the floor and was told I was going to a new office,” he told the tribunal.

“I felt it was disrespectful to me as a professional.”

After Taylor was transferred out of the job, Supt Ferris noticed that he remained on a list of senior officers to whom press clippings were sent daily.

Word also reached him that the departed Taylor was looking for information about incidents. He had Taylor removed from the list, but later found he was on it again.

Former Garda Press Officer Dave Taylor.
Former Garda Press Officer Dave Taylor.

“I informed Superintendent Taylor that he was no longer getting the press clippings as he was no longer the press officer…I took the view there was no business need for him to remain in the list of recipients.”

What emerged from the evidence was a picture of a man who had departed the press office but found it difficult to leave the job behind. What exactly Supt Taylor wanted with such media material while working in the traffic division is unknown. But he certainly would not have been authorised in his new role to disseminate material to the media.

Supt Ferris was also asked whether Dave Taylor had ever discussed with him a campaign against Sgt McCabe.

“I had no knowledge of this alleged campaign and no part of it,” he said. He had no discussions with his colleague about Sergeant McCabe.

Tribunal chairman, Judge Peter Charleton, returned to this theme later.

“We’ve had two witnesses now from the Garda press office,” he said, “Does anybody know anything?”

He questioned the witness at some length as to whether there was any talk or speculation in the press office about McCabe, or attitudes towards him, at various junctures when elements of his story were prominent in the media. The superintendent couldn’t recall anything of note.

Judge Charleton also wondered was there any talk or speculation in the press office about their former colleague Dave Taylor after news came out about a protected disclosure from a senior garda. Nothing again.

It would seem indeed that when it came to certain topics, nobody did know anything in the Garda press office.

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