A journalist has told the Charleton Tribunal she was told by a colleague that the former Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan was the source for her belief that Sgt Maurice McCabe was a child abuser.
Alison O'Reilly, a journalist with the Irish Daily Mail, said she was told this by her colleague with the Irish Mail on Sunday, Debbie McCann.
The tribunal, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, has heard that in 2006 he was the subject of an historical allegation of child sex abuse by a woman being called Ms D, who is the daughter of a Garda colleague.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, in ruling that no charges should be brought, decided that even if the disputed event had occurred, it would not have constituted a sexual assault, or an assault.
O'Reilly said that she was told by McCann that she had been given information about an alleged child sex assault by Sgt McCabe. She said that McCann told her she had received information about Sgt McCabe from "someone high up", and then confirmed that it had come from Ms O'Sullivan and Supt Dave Taylor.
Noirin O’Sullivan disputes any claim she was involved with or knew about any alleged smear campaign.
Supt Taylor is a former head of the Garda Press Office who, in a protected disclosure, has claimed that he was ordered in 2013 to conduct a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
McCann is one of the journalists Supt Taylor claims he spoke with as part of the alleged smear campaign.
O’Reilly said that during a conversation about whether Sgt McCabe might, as was being rumoured, be a child abuser, McCann said Supt Taylor had told her that the alleged victim “was in a bad way”.
O'Reilly told Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, that she subsequently met in Virginia, Co Cavan, with Garda whistleblower John Wilson, whom she had not met before. They spoke together for about an hour in Mr Wilson's car and then went together to Sgt McCabe's house, where she told him that she had been told, by McCann, that he had abused a child some years earlier and there had been "a big cover up".
She said Sgt McCabe had told her it wasn’t true and he hadn’t abused any child. She said she felt Sgt McCabe was “very distressed”. She said she later told McCann that she had met with Sgt McCabe, and didn’t believe the rumours about him. “I believed him. I had a gut feeling,” O’Reilly told the tribunal.
She said that McCann was a good friend and she felt she was being used, and that, therefore, the paper was being used.
O’Reilly said that she was later told by McCann that McCann had been to visit Ms D and had spoken with her for an hour and that she “really believed her”. The witness said her colleague also told her some of the detail behind the alleged assault.
“It seemed very believable to me. I was thinking, maybe I have this wrong,” O’Reilly said. “Maybe Maurice McCabe is going to be arrested here and I’ve got this totally wrong.”
Mr Marrinan said Ms D has told the tribunal that McCann called to her door and requested an interview with her daughter, that she refused, and that the conversation only lasted a short time.
However, he said, the facts in O'Reilly's statement about the alleged assault reflected what Ms D told the gardaí at the time of her complaint in 2006 and these were facts that should not have been leaked. Ms D has said the only journalist she spoke with is crime journalist Paul Williams.
O’Reilly said that either McCann “wasn’t telling the truth then or isn’t now. I can only tell you what she told me.” Mr Marrinan said it was a “most peculiar situation.”
He asked if it was possible that Williams might have shared information with McCann. O’Reilly said it was “absolutely possible.”
Earlier today, in a general comment before O'Reilly's evidence, the chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, said there was "a lot of one journalist saying another journalist is lying," which he would not be dealing with in his final report.
The tribunal is to hear from a number of journalists over the coming weeks, some of whom are disputing claims from other journalists that they made certain comments about McCabe during the period covered by Supt Taylor’s alleged smear campaign.
The tribunal is still hearing evidence from O’Reilly.