Claims of former head of Garda press office strongly rejected at Charleton tribunal

Crime and security editor of The Irish Times Conor Lally insists negative briefing ‘never happened’

Conor Lally is one of 11 journalists named by Supt Dave Taylor as journalists to whom he spoke as part of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Conor Lally is one of 11 journalists named by Supt Dave Taylor as journalists to whom he spoke as part of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Colm Keena

Claims made by the former head of the Garda Press Office, Supt Dave Taylor, have been strongly rejected at the Charleton tribunal by Conor Lally, crime and security editor of The Irish Times.

In his second day in the witness box Mr Lally said it was not the case, as alleged by Supt Taylor, that he had been negatively briefed about Sgt Maurice McCabe or told that he was motivated by “revenge” in his whistleblowing activities.

“He has no evidence to back it up,” Mr Lally said, responding to John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor. “He can’t say how many times, or where it happened.”

He said the superintendent had produced no evidence to the tribunal to support his claim “because it never happened”.

Mr Lally is one of 11 journalists named by Supt Taylor as journalists to whom he spoke as part of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal is investigating an allegation made by Supt Taylor in a protected disclosure that he was instructed in 2013 by the then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to conduct a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, and that this was known to the then deputy commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan have told the tribunal that Supt Taylor’s claim is not true. Supt Taylor, in his evidence to the tribunal, repeated his claim but could not give any specific instance of when he spoke to a journalist as part of the alleged smear campaign.

Mr Lally told the tribunal that he was never briefed negatively by any serving or former member of An Garda Síochána about Sgt McCabe.

He said that if during a conversation with Supt Taylor the then head of the Garda Press Office had tried to “drop” into the conversation the suggestion that Sgt McCabe was “motivated by revenge”, that would be something that he, Mr Lally, would “certainly recall”.

Mr Lally said that Supt Taylor had put his claim in a protected disclosure but then in the tribunal he “can’t remember anything” to support the claim and was unable to be specific. “There you go.”

The chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, said that Supt Taylor had given his evidence on oath.

Mr Lally said that if any member of An Garda Síochána had come him and tried to negatively brief him about Sgt McCabe, he would remember. “It would be a big moment.”

The crime correspondent with the Irish Mail on Sunday, Debbie McCann, also told the tribunal that she was not aware of any orchestrated smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Ms McCann is another of the journalists named by Supt Taylor as persons he spoke to in relation to the alleged smear campaign.

Responding to Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, Ms McCann said that it was the case that when originally contacted and asked about the matter, she had cited concerns about journalistic privilege when declining to answer some questions. However, she did say she was not aware of any orchestrated campaign to malign Sgt McCabe.

However, in evidence she said that she had no knowledge of any attempt by senior Garda Management to malign Sgt McCabe. “I wasn’t briefed negatively by any member of An Garda Síochána about Sgt McCabe.”

Mr Justice Charleton said this was the first time the tribunal heard this. Mr Marrinan said the evidence was helpful and “advances our inquiries to a large extent.”

The tribunal has heard that in February 2014 Ms McCann went to Co Cavan to seek an interview with Ms D, a woman who had made an allegation of child sex abuse against Sgt McCabe in 2006. The allegation was dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Marrinan said Supt Taylor had told the tribunal that Ms McCann had called him on the day she went to Co Cavan, but Ms McCann said she did not feel comfortable confirming that, for reasons of source protection.

Prior to the tribunal breaking for lunch Mr Justice Charleton said to the witness that Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan had rights.

“We have two commissioner of An Garda Síochána against whom appalling things have been said by a person [Supt Taylor] you were in contact with.

The purpose of the tribunal was to see what actually happened, he said. If the witness had information about a conversation with Supt Taylor that was relevant to the tribunal, and had not involved any negative briefing against Sgt McCabe, then he did not see why she could not answer.

“It is to do with actually answering questions the people of Ireland have entrusted me to come up with some kind of an answer to,” he said. “You might want to think about this and in that regard I am going to break for lunch.”

Ms McCann is to continue her evidence when the tribunal resumes.