Unless everything is a ball of smoke, then it’s not just the upper echelons of An Garda Síochána that will be damaged by Judge Charleton’s inquiry, writes Michael Clifford
THE extent to which Supt David Taylor has implicated himself in a campaign of black propaganda against Sgt Maurice McCabe became fully apparent yesterday.
The terms of reference for the commission of inquiry to investigate whether there was a campaign against McCabe spoke volumes. The terms are based mainly on Taylor’s claims.
These include his claim that he briefed the media “to write negatively about Sergeant McCabe to the effect that his complaints had no substance, that the gardaí had fully investigated his complaints and found no substance to his allegations and that he was driven by agendas”.
In addition, he admitted briefing that “an allegation of criminal misconduct” had been made against Sgt McCabe and that this was the root cause of his agenda, namely revenge against the gardaí.
The latter theme also featured in attempts at the O’Higgins Commission to attack McCabe’s character.
There is a pattern here, or maybe just a series of coincidences. Unable to refute McCabe’s claims of malpractice, elements within the force allegedly decided to instead mercilessly attack his character. The question is whom these elements were.
Taylor admits his role, but claims he was instructed by his boss, then commissioner Martin Callinan, with the full knowledge and complicity of current commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
Taylor had left the press office and HQ by April 2015 when there was another alleged attempt to attack McCabe’s character behind the closed doors of the O’Higgins inquiry into McCabe’s claims.
Counsel for O’Sullivan said he was instructed to do so, but the commissioner says she never issued such instructions. Only when McCabe produced a tape recording vindicating himself of such allegations, did the matter die.
Taylor was gone by then. If what happened at O’Higgins was part of a pattern to attack McCabe, then it outlived his tenure at HQ, which would give some weight to Taylor’s claim that he wasn’t acting off his own bat.
The goings-on in O’Higgins are not included in terms of reference, which is unfortunate, as they were extremely serious and remain unresolved.
What is included in the terms is an allegation that RTÉ was supplied with briefing material about the O’Higgins report ahead of publication, which painted McCabe as a “liar”.
The inquiry will also examine a meeting between Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness and then commissioner Callinan in a carpark in 2014. McGuinness has stated that Callinan attempted at that meeting to discredit McCabe, saying he wasn’t to be trusted and that there were issues about him.
Earlier in the Dáil there was a significant, if somewhat shocking, development, when Labour leader Brendan Howlin made an extraordinary allegation under privilege.
He had raised the issue over whether O’Sullivan should step aside for the duration of the commission of inquiry. Then he revealed that he had been contacted by a journalist by phone that morning.
The journalist told him they had direct knowledge of “calls made by the Garda commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 in the course of which the commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe.”
Howlin’s decision to relate the allegation under privilege carries a certain weight. He passed on allegations about the gardaí in 2000 which led to the setting up of the Morris Tribunal into malpractice in the force in Donegal.
Afterwards, Howlin and former TD Jim Higgins were dragged all the way to the Supreme Court over their refusal to divulge their sources. As it was to turn out, setting up the Morris Tribunal was a correct, if belated, decision, demonstrated by an outcome which exposed serious malpractice and corruption.
Now Howlin is making another claim under privilege about the guards, and deserves to be listened to. As does O’Sullivan, but the questions around her are multiplying to the extent that either she has serious issues to answer or a number of people are now out to bury her in the same way some elements once attempted to bury McCabe.
The other outcome from Howlin’s Dáil claims is that he apparently has unearthed another whistleblower of sorts. The journalist who contacted Howlin — taking the Labour leader at his word — must have been within the ambit of those who were fervently briefed by Garda HQ about Sgt McCabe, if this journalist has the direct knowledge that they claim.
Judge Charleton will be interested to hear from one who has apparently undergone a Pauline conversion. Presumably, the judge will also be curious as to which other senior figures briefed this journalist and what exactly they had to say.
In addition, there is the issue over whether these alleged nefarious briefings affected how this journalist covered the whistleblower story.
Unless everything is a ball of smoke, as an earlier phase of this story was once prematurely characterised, then it’s not just the upper echelons of An Garda Síochána that will be damaged by Judge Charleton’s inquiry.
Elements of the media and some senior political figures may also emerge from the process shipping damage.
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