Planning Tribunal parallels abound

No public inquiry reaching into the dark recesses of Irish life is complete without a shady figure stepping into the light to seek redemption. So it went in the Planning Tribunal. So it goes now with the Disclosures Tribunal.

Those two inquiries have more in common than being conducted in Dublin Castle. 

The planning inquiry delved into the murky world of brown envelopes passed between developers and councillors in a transaction designed to turn muck into gold through rezoning.

Lobbyist Frank Dunlop prospered in the green fields around Dublin, organising, on his own account, to bribe councillors for their votes.

Dunlop came out with his hands up in 2001 after the tribunal cornered him with details of bank transactions. He set off on the road to Damascus, naming names along the way, against many of whom there was scant evidence.

There was also a major suspicion that he withheld the names of others whom he held in good stead.

Today, the dark recess of Irish life receiving the spotlight treatment is Garda culture at the highest level.

The Disclosures Tribunal is examining whether there was a smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe, who was highlighting Garda malpractice in criminal investigations and corruption in road safety policing.

In September 2016, former head of the Garda press office Superintendent David Taylor made a protected disclosure, alleging that he had been ordered to brief journalists negatively about Sgt McCabe. 

This concerned the dredging-up of an old discredited allegation from the daughter of a colleague, known as Ms D.

In effect, he was attempting to blacken McCabe’s name in order to deflect from the malpractice the sergeant was highlighting.

His allegations don’t concern bribes, but could impact hugely on the reputations of former commissioners Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Like Dunlop, Supt Taylor’s evidence is soured with the suspicion that he is picking and choosing who to condemn.

During the week, the tribunal heard he provided a list of journalists whom he says he briefed. Eleven reporters either deny his allegations or are claiming journalistic privilege, even though he has waived his right to privilege. 

Initially, he provided a list of nine. Then phone records and other material were produced and he added two further names. These two, Debbie McCann of the Irish Mail and Eavan Murray of The Sun had more contact with Supt Taylor than almost anybody else, yet he nearly forgot to mention them.

One of those he did name was RTÉ reporter John Burke. On Tuesday, counsel for RTÉ put it to Supt Taylor that he had never actually met Mr Burke.

“He’s someone who you’re never met, (and) winds up on your list,” Seán Gillane asked Taylor. “Yet Ms McCann and Ms Murray, with whom you are having thousands of contacts in the specific context of Ms D, stay off your list?” 

Being on the list, Gillane asserted, was something of pot luck.

Taylor has also claimed that the director of communications in the force was aware that he, Supt Taylor, had been directed by Martin Callinan to blacken Sgt McCabe’s name.

Taylor only revealed this after initial interviews with the tribunal investigators. On Thursday, Judge Peter Charleton put it to Supt Taylor that he didn’t get on with Andrew McLindon. Supt Taylor denied this.

“I’m just wondering then why did you describe him in a text as a ‘rodent’?” the judge asked.

What is at issue is vital.

Is Garda culture so morally bankrupt that there were efforts to paint a whistle blower as a child abuser in order to discredit him? There is circumstantial evidence that this tactic was being used informally in Garda, media, and political circles. There has been evidence that Callinan did this directly himself, though he denies it.

But the examination of the issue is severely hampered by Supt Taylor’s credibility. His four days in the witness box exposed him as offering different versions of the truth to different people. He made his protected disclosure at a low time in his life, when he was suspended and under criminal investigation for leaking to the media.

Callinan is certainly of the belief that Supt Taylor didn’t make the protected disclosure in good faith. Yesterday he told the tribunal that Supt Taylor told him he would bring down Ms O’Sullivan, as he blamed her for his suspension from the force on allegations of leaking to the media. Mr Callinan believes he is merely collateral damage in this “plan” by Supt Taylor.

Supt Taylor and Callinan did have a close working relationship when the former was commissioner. Callinan has his own questions to answer. While he denies ever instructing Supt Taylor to spread muck about Sgt McCabe, a number of people have come forward to claim they were told negative and sometimes shocking lies by Mr Callinan about Sgt McCabe. He has denied it all.

and presents himself as a man who was doing things completely by the book and who had commensurate regard for the whistleblower.

In his first day of evidence he was brought through allegations from celebrity solicitor Gerard Kean and journalist Philip Boucher Hayes that they were independently briefed negatively by Callinan about McCabe.

Callinan denies both of these allegations.

Mr Kean has told the tribunal that Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was “troublesome, obstructive, difficult”.“I don’t know why Gerard Kean said some of the things he did say to this tribunal because they’re not true,” Mr Callinan said. He only remembered extensive telephone contact with Mr Kean after it was brought to his attention by the tribunal.

Mr Boucher Hayes has told the tribunal that prior to a programme in RTÉ in December 2013 that Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was a “troubled individual with a lot of psychological issues and psychiatric issues” and went on to say there were “horrific things, the worst kind” that he could tell about Sgt McCabe.Mr Callinan denies this. “I certainly did not speak of Garda McCabe in those terms, not ever would,” he said.

Whatever about any alleged conspiracy, there is one glaring similarity in the evidence of Supt Taylor and Callinan.

Both are, independently, in complete conflict with a number of people over who said what about Maurice McCabe.

Somebody is not telling the truth, and Judge Charleton will have to decide whom he believes, and what it infers.


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