Many Charleton tribunal witnesses ‘not telling the truth’
Chair of inquiry into alleged smear campaign says people’s reliance on privilege a ‘smokescreen’
Debbie McCann, crime correspondent with the Irish Mail on Sunday, arriving at Dublin Castle for the Charleton tribunal. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins.
The chairman of the Charleton Tribunal has said an “awful lot” of witnesses who have given evidence “have not been telling me the truth”.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton made the comment during the evidence of Irish Mail on Sunday crime correspondent Debbie McCann.
The journalist has been told she may be recalled to the witness box at a further date and the chairman has asked for legal submissions on the issue of journalistic privilege being asserted, whether he should take the matter further, or whether doing so would be futile.
Ms McCann has been refusing to answer questions about communications she might have had with the former head of the Garda press office, Supt Dave Taylor, on the grounds of a journalist’s obligation to protect confidential sources.
However she said that she had never been briefed negatively by any Garda about Sgt McCabe.
The tribunal is investigating a claim by Supt Taylor that he was ordered in 2013 by the then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to conduct a smear campaign against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Mr Callinan has denied the claim.
Ms McCann is one of the journalists with whom Supt Taylor said he spoke as part of the alleged campaign.
Mr Justice Charleton remarked that every time the witness was asked a question about communications with Supt Taylor, she cited her concerns about journalistic privilege.
“I am not an idiot,” he said. “I have to be satisfied that you are telling the truth.”
He said “an awful lot of people have not been telling me the truth”. Ms McCann replied: “I am telling you the truth.”
The tribunal has heard that Supt Taylor has given a waiver to any journalist who felt bound by a duty of confidence to him, to give evidence to the tribunal.
Ms McCann said that if she revealed matters to do with confidential sources she might not be trusted as a journalist in the future.
Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, said Ms McCann’s reputation as a journalist could also be affected by sources believing “you abandoned them in their hour of need”.
If Supt Taylor was telling the truth and his claim was being met by a “wall of silence” from journalists, that would be “incredible unjust” to him.
Mr Justice Charleton said the witness was saying she had never received a negative briefing about Sgt McCabe from a member of An Garda Síochána but at the same time was refusing to say if she spoke to Supt Taylor in 2014 about going to visit ‘Ms D’, a woman who in 2006 made an historical child sex abuse allegation against Sgt McCabe.
The allegation was comprehensively dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In February 2014, Ms McCann called to the home of ‘Ms D’ in Co Cavan and was told by her mother that ‘Ms D’ did not want to be interviewed.
Mr Justice Charleton said: “I think the truth is the most important value that exists in life.”Ms McCann responded: “And so do I.”
She told Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, that if she asked Supt Taylor a question and he gave a factual answer that was correct, she would not consider that to be a smear.
She told Michael O’Higgins SC, for Supt Taylor, she had a number of sources for the information she acquired when she made inquiries in February 2014 about Sgt McCabe and the Ms D allegation, and they were both Garda and non-Garda sources. The principal source was a Garda, she said.
The tribunal has heard of a dispute between Ms McCann and journalist Alison O’Reilly of the Irish Daily Mail about Ms O’Reilly’s claim that she was told by Ms McCann that one of her sources about the Ms D allegation was the former Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sulllivan.
Ms McCann said she was not in contact with Ms O’Sullivan at all during the period concerned.
Responding to solicitor for the Mail publications, Michael Kealey, Ms McCann said she had been “horrified” and “distressed” when she learned of the claims about Ms O’Sullivan being her source for allegations about Sgt McCabe.
The tribunal has heard that Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin made controversial comments in the Dáil about Ms O’Sullivan being an alleged source for journalists after having spoken with Ms O’Reilly.
Evidence from other journalists is due to be heard on Monday.