RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher Hayes has told the Charleton tribunal that former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan told him Sgt Maurice McCabe was linked to "horrific things".
Boucher Hayes told the tribunal that during a brief conversation in RTÉ in December 2013, Mr Callinan said the Garda whistleblower had psychological and psychiatric issues and was linked to the “most horrific things”.
The broadcaster said he took the comment to be a reference to child sex abuse or possibly rape, given that Sgt McCabe had not been linked with “murder or genocide”.
He said he did not believe what he was being told by Mr Callinan “right from the start”.
The tribunal is investigating an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe. Mr Callinan has said he did not make the alleged comment to Boucher Hayes and has no knowledge of any smear campaign.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, Mr Boucher Hayes said that in the days and weeks after the conversation with Mr Callinan, he discussed its content with a number of people.
He told Noel Whelan SC, for An Garda Síochána, he had not mentioned this before as he thought it was not relevant to the tribunal's terms of reference. "I would have considered it hearsay."
He said he mentioned the matter to his colleague on the Crimecall programme, Gráinne Seoige, Crimecall producer Niamh O'Connor, RTÉ radio producer Tom Donnelly and Sgt McCabe.
Asked if he had any difficulty with the tribunal contacting Ms Seoige, Ms O'Connor, or Mr Donnelly, Mr Boucher Hayes said he was "sure they would be happy to support what I have said here today".
The broadcaster said he mentioned the conversation a few days after it occurred to Ms Seoige. He told her: “‘You’re not going to believe what he said to me.’ She was as shocked and appalled as I was.”
He said he later in 2014 travelled to Sgt McCabe's home and relayed what he had been told. The sergeant told him he had been the subject of a child sex abuse allegation in 2006 that had been comprehensively dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Boucher Hayes said the sergeant was not as shocked by what he was told as he had expected him to be. While Sgt McCabe did not produce any documentary evidence, Mr Boucher Hayes believed him. It was “pure gut instinct”.
Mr Boucher Hayes said he then tried to get in contact with Mr Callinan, who had by that stage retired. He wrote letters to the Garda Press Office, Garda HQ and the Chief State Solicitor's Office, in an effort to contact Mr Callinan. He said these letters, which did not mention why he wanted to contact the then former commissioner, would still be on his computer. He got no response.
He said he considered the comment allegedly made to him by Mr Callinan to be unsubstantiated and malicious. He rejected any suggestion that he had “fabricated” the alleged exchange.
“I would have no earthly reason for making any of this up or withholding anything up to now,” he said.
He said he did not try to publish anything about the alleged exchange because it was “so explosive”, and would have been damaging to Sgt McCabe even if what was published had been a denial of the claim.
The tribunal has adjourned until Tuesday, when a number of other journalists are to be called, including Paul Reynolds of RTÉ and Mick Clifford of the Irish Examiner.