Journalists deny being briefed as part of McCabe ‘smear campaign’

Former Garda press chief says he and Martin Callinan decided which reporters to contact

Five of the 11 journalists whom the former head of the Garda press office said he spoke to as part of a campaign to smear the whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe have disputed his claim. The other journalists named by Supt Dave Taylor have claimed privilege, the Disclosures Tribunal heard on Monday.

The tribunal, which is chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, was established in part to examine Supt Taylor's allegation that the Garda commissioner at the time, Martin Callinan, ordered him to brief journalists against Sgt McCabe, who had raised concerns about senior gardaí quashing penalty points. Mr Callinan denies the claim.

The superintendent said the 11 journalists he spoke to were Conor Lally, the Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times; Paul Reynolds and John Burke of RTÉ; Paul Williams of Independent News & Media and Newstalk; John Mooney of the Sunday Times; Michael O'Toole of the Star; Cormac O'Keeffe, Daniel McConnell and Juno McEnroe of the Irish Examiner; Debbie McCann of the Irish Mail on Sunday; and Eavan Murray of the Irish Sun.

Diarmaid McGuinness SC, for the tribunal, said Reynolds denied ever having been briefed against Sgt McCabe “verbally, by text, email or any other form of communication”. Supt Taylor said he spoke to Reynolds a number of times about Sgt McCabe’s motivation for speaking out against his employer, which the superintendent attributed to revenge for sex-abuse allegations against the garda. The tribunal has heard that in 2006 a colleague made a child-sex-abuse allegation against Sgt McCabe; no charges were ever brought.


Journalists deny being briefed

John Burke said in a statement that he was not briefed negatively by Supt Taylor in the way alleged. Williams has also said he was never briefed negatively by Supt Taylor. McEnroe said he had no information about any orchestrated campaign by the Garda press office to discredit Sgt McCabe.

Michael O’Toole said he wanted to claim journalistic privilege but that no senior Garda had ever smeared Sgt McCabe to him.

Conor Lally, Daniel McConnell, John Mooney, Cormac O’Keeffe, Debbie McCann and Eavan Murray are all claiming journalistic privilege. Details of their statements are expected to be heard later.

Supt Taylor said he could not tell the tribunal how the journalists he said he briefed reacted to what he told them about Sgt McCabe. “They don’t give reaction,” he added. He also said he did not think he was ineffectual in conducting his campaign. Some journalists did not support Sgt McCabe’s whistleblowing activities, he told Mr McGuinness.

Supt Taylor said he could not remember any details of the conversations he had, which were “opportunistic” conversations at crime scenes, on the fringes of press conferences or over the phone, but was certain he had briefed the journalists against Sgt McCabe.

He also said he and Mr Callinan had discussed which journalists to talk to. They decided not to approach Michael Clifford of the Irish Examiner or Katie Hannon of RTÉ, as they had both produced work sympathetic to Sgt McCabe. "They weren't swing voters?" Mr Justice Charleton commented. Supt Taylor agreed.

Asked if he had ever experienced any “pushback”, he said Lally had questioned his account when Supt Taylor briefed against Sgt McCabe about the extent to which he co-operated with Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony’s investigation of the penalty-points system, in 2013.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent