Michael Clifford on the Disclosures Tribunal: Splash of colour but black and white truth remains elusive

Mick Wallace laid it out with a splash of colour: “There’s never been a judge in the history of the State told so many lies,” writes Michael Clifford.

Michael Clifford on the Disclosures Tribunal: Splash of colour but black and white truth remains elusive

Mick Wallace laid it out with a splash of colour: “There’s never been a judge in the history of the State told so many lies,” writes Michael Clifford.

The Wexford TD was referencing the chairman of the Disclosures Tribunal, Judge Peter Charleton.

Deputy Wallace was giving evidence on Day 94 of the Tribunal. (The serious money is now going on the inquiry being done within the 100 days). His observation was noted by the chairman, but passed without any comment.

It could have been pointed out to Deputy Wallace that the historical record may dispute his observation. Judges Flood, Mahon et al oversaw a tribunal running for 15 years, with Judge Michael Moriarty not far behind. Those men must have heard some things over the course of the long years.

But still, the deputy had a point. A few weeks back, Judge Charleton himself opined that he wasn’t an idiot and that “an awful lot of people” hadn’t told the truth.

Yesterday, the truth up for grabs was the version propagated by Superintendent Dave Taylor, the former head of the garda press office and the man who is largely responsible for the tribunal.

Deputy Wallace and his fellow TD Clare Daly met Mr Taylor in October 2016 a few days after the superintendent had submitted a protected disclosure alleging a smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe when he, Mr Taylor, had been the press officer.

Deputies Wallace and Daly had followed the progress of Sgt McCabe’s attempts to highlight abuse in policing since 2012. Yesterday, Deputy Wallace revealed that the first he’d heard of an allegation against the Cavan-based sergeant was an anonymous phonecall to his Dáil office in 2014.

The allegation dating from 2006 was from the daughter of a colleague of Sgt McCabe’s and was completely dismissed by a Garda investigation, the State solicitor and the DPP. Mr Taylor has alleged that the allegation was used to portray Sgt McCabe as a man with an agenda of revenge against the force.

Deputy Wallace’s colleague, Clare Daly TD, told the tribunal yesterday that she had been told about the anonymous phonecall and had heard various rumours when she and Deputy Wallace were pursuing Sgt McCabe’s claims.

“What I’m sure of is that from the beginning since we began to raise Maurice’s concerns they were met in some quarters with, well, ‘he’s a bit of a nut’, ‘is there not a history there’, that kind of stuff.”

She went on: “I suppose I would have been aware of what I can only describe as a whispering in relation to allegations involving children but I didn’t place any huge stock on it.”

Both TDs were asked about the version of the smear campaign Mr Taylor gave them in October 2016 when they met him in his home and how it differs from his position now. Deputies Wallace and Daly said they were left with the impression that texts were a part of the campaign. Mr Taylor denies that he said this.

Since the tribunal was set up, 12 out of 15 phones the inquiry was interested in have not been located.

“It’s clear he either didn’t tell the truth in his living room or he didn’t tell the truth in here, that’s for Judge Charleton to decide,” Deputy Wallace said.

“But if you’re looking for my opinion he told more of the truth in his living room.”

Towards the end of the day, Judge Charleton felt compelled to reference the truth and how he’s having difficulty getting his hands on it.

The matter arose after evidence from a former reporter with the Daily Mirror, Cathal McMahon. He claimed that he’d heard about the allegation against Sgt McCabe in 2014. He rang Mr Taylor who confirmed it and told him to go up to Cavan to check it. Mr McMahon asked his editor, John ‘Jumbo’ Kerins who told him not to pursue the story.

Mr Kerins followed his former reporter into the witness box. He confirmed much of the story and then revealed that he became aware the story had been “peddled around town to other newsrooms”.

This, in turn, prompted the chairman to once again put out a call for anybody with any knowledge of these matters to come forward.

It isn’t just a “legal obligation but a patriotic duty”, he said. The people of Ireland could be left in the “daft” position where people in the journalistic profession don’t come forward and, then, might write about it in the aftermath.

The outcome could be much worse for journalism than any libel action as this would lead people to stop trusting journalism.

“I, for one, believe in the importance of the profession [journalism],” he said.

His comments illustrate how serious the judge is about thoroughly discharging his brief. This is the third occasion on which he has felt compelled to ask people to come forward. It would appear that he does not believe that he has been presented with the full facts and that there are people out there who could fill in some blanks. The truth is proving elusive, but the chairman of the tribunal has made it clear he is determined to do his best to find it.

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