Former Garda chief back before Charleton tribunal

Martin Callinan to be quizzed over alleged attempts to blacken Maurice McCabe’s name

Former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan returns to the witness box today to face questioning at the Charleton tribunal about whether he was involved in an attempt to blacken the name of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

In his first day in the witness box on Friday, Mr Callinan rejected the core allegation against him that is being investigated by the tribunal. This is that in 2013 he ordered the then head of the Garda Press Office, Supt Dave Taylor, to conduct a smear campaign against McCabe.

Supt Taylor claimed in late September 2016 that he had been ordered by then commissioner Mr Callinan to smear Sgt McCabe and that the then deputy commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, knew about this.

Both former commissioners have told the tribunal in evidence that Supt Taylor’s claim is untrue.


As well as facing questioning about the core issue being examined by the tribunal – the claim of an orchestrated smear campaign – Mr Callinan is also facing evidence that he on a number of occasions sought to blacken Sgt McCabe’s reputation.

Child sex abuse

Mr Callinan has said witnesses who have told the tribunal that he told them that McCabe was not to be trusted and had been accused of child sex abuse, were wrong.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness and Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy have given evidence that they were each separately told of the accusation. The comments were allegedly made in early 2014 when the Dáil Public Accounts Committee was hearing evidence from Sgt McCabe and Mr Callinan about the penalty points system.

The tribunal has heard that Sgt McCabe was the subject of a child sex abuse allegation in 2006 but that the Director of Public Prosecutions found that the allegation, which was contested, even if true, would not constitute a sexual assault or indeed an assault.

The tribunal has heard that Sgt McCabe was unhappy with aspects of how the investigation was handled and suffered a loss of trust in his colleagues in its wake.

As well as the claims from Mr McGuinness and Mr McCarthy, Mr Callinan has also rejected the claims of RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher Hayes, and solicitor Gerald Kean, that he spoke negatively to them about Sgt McCabe.

Negative briefings

Supt Taylor told the tribunal during four days of evidence last week that he gave negative briefings to 11 journalists while carrying out Mr Callinan’s alleged instruction to smear Sgt McCabe. However, he was unable to provide any detail as to where any of these briefings occurred, or how any individual journalist reacted.

Some of the journalists have told the tribunal that they were not briefed as alleged. Others have yet to respond as they feel they are constrained by journalistic privilege.

The tribunal was told that The Irish Times' crime and security editor, Conor Lally, who is one of those named by Supt Taylor, felt constrained in responding directly about the Taylor claim because of the obligations governing journalistic privilege, but could say that he had never received any negative briefings about Sgt McCabe from any serving or former member of the Garda.

During his evidence Supt Taylor said it was not the case that he sent hundreds of text messages to journalists and others as part of his alleged smear campaign, even though a number of others, including Sgt McCabe, have told the tribunal that Supt Taylor said this to them in 2016.

Text messages

As well as Sgt McCabe, TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, and journalist Mick Clifford of the Irish Examiner, have all said they were told by Supt Taylor in 2016 that the alleged campaign involved text messages.

The tribunal has heard that Clifford, who has been to the fore in reporting matters linked to the McCabe saga and has written a book on the subject, was in contact with Supt Taylor in the middle of 2016 and met with him in his home.

By this time Supt Taylor had been moved from the press office to the traffic division and was suspended on reduced pay pending the completion of a criminal inquiry of which he was the focus.

His wife, Michelle, told the tribunal that by September of that year the family was under financial and other pressures and that she at times feared for her husband’s life.

In the wake of the Taylors meetings with Clifford, Sgt McCabe got in contact with Ms Taylor and eventually met the Taylors in their home on September 20th, 2016.

Smear campaign

Later that month both Sgt McCabe and Supt Taylor made protected disclosures alleging that Mr Callinan had ordered a smear campaign and that Ms O’Sullivan knew about it. Sgt McCabe’s claim was based on what he said he had been told by Supt Taylor.

On Monday, October 3rd, 2016, Sgt McCabe met with Ms Daly and Mr Wallace for lunch and he told the deputies what he had been told by Supt Taylor during the meeting on September 20th. The sergeant gave the politicians Ms Taylor’s number. After the lunch, the two deputies called Ms Taylor and it was agreed they could come that evening to the Taylors’ home.

On Tuesday, October 4th, 2016, Clifford's report revealing the explosive claim against Mr Callinan and Ms O'Sullivan was published in the Irish Examiner. There were calls in the Dáil from Mr Wallace and Ms Daly, among others, for Ms O'Sullivan's resignation. The allegation caused a huge crisis for the Garda Síochána, then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald and for the Government.

In a radio interview on October 5th, 2016, Ms Daly said “inaccurate personal information was given out about him [McCabe] in the most horrific ways. Text messages sent to the gardaí, people in the media told ‘oh, you don’t want to be talking to him now, you know all about him’, hint, hint, with some more graphic details with it. Politicians who I think need to come clean on this got the message about this as well.”


However, Supt Taylor’s evidence to the tribunal last week was that this was not true. He had never said he sent out a huge number of text messages as part of a smear campaign. Sgt McCabe, Ms Daly, Mr Wallace and Clifford, were wrong when they said he had told them that he had.

Mr Callinan has said he believes that Supt Taylor’s claim about his ordering a smear campaign was motivated by a grudge Supt Taylor had against Ms O’Sullivan. He said Supt Taylor blamed Ms O’Sullivan for the criminal investigation that led to his suspension, and also felt aggrieved that he had not been promoted when he was moved from the press office.

Ms Callinan said he believed Supt Taylor knew he could not get at Ms O’Sullivan without implicating Mr Callinan as well. Supt Taylor has rejected Mr Callinan’s claims.

The criminal investigation did not lead to charges being levied and Supt Taylor returned to work. Earlier this year he applied for promotion, but was unsuccessful.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

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