McCabe stands by claim O’Sullivan influenced RTÉ broadcasts

Charleton tribunal: RTÉ journalist says reports were based on O’Higgins findings

Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe is standing by his evidence to the Charleton tribunal in relation to a claim that former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan influenced a series of broadcasts on RTÉ in May 2016.

In evidence in March, Sgt McCabe said the basis for his claim was a comment he said was made to him by the civilian head of human resources at Garda Headquarters John Barrett.

However, Mr Barrett, in a statement given to the tribunal, has said the comment was never made.

Mr Barrett may give evidence on the matter later on Friday.

As the tribunal resumed this morning Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, said his client’s position was that he had “faithfully reported to the tribunal” what he was told by Mr Barrett.

In March Sgt McCabe said in evidence that during a visit to his, Sgt McCabe’s home, Mr Barrett had said, in a reference to the RTÉ broadcasts, “it would have come from block one.”

This was taken to be a reference to Ms O’Sullivan’s office.

Sgt McCabe said the disputed comment was the basis for a claim he made in a protected disclosure to the Department of Justice in September 2016.

In the disclosure Sgt McCabe said he was satisfied “on impeccable authority, that those RTÉ broadcasts were planned and orchestrated by the commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, personally using briefing material prepared at Garda Headquarters.”

RTÉ crime correspondent Paul Reynolds has told the tribunal his broadcasts on RTÉ on May 9th, 2016, were based on copies he had acquired of the as then unpublished report of the O'Higgins Commission.

Reynolds said the content of the broadcasts reflected the views expressed in the report of Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins.

He said the source of the reports was not Ms O'Sullivan and that, as far as he was aware, Garda HQ did not know the broadcasts were to be made before the first report was made on that day's Morning Ireland radio programme.

Reynolds rejected a charge from Mr McDowell that his coverage of a separate matter to do with Sgt McCabe and penalty points reflected “a deep prejudice against Sgt McCabe”.

Mr McDowell said the coverage on the issue indicated how Reynolds behaved in relation to the May 9th reports. Reynolds said he “reported the facts”.

Mr McDowell said that his client's view was that there were many findings in the O'Higgins report that were favourable to him and that were not reported by Reynolds but were reported on Drive Time, on the same day, by Philip Boucher Hayes.

Reynolds said “if Sgt McCabe was happier with Philip Boucher Hayes’ reports’ than he was with mine, then that is fair enough.”

‘Put the boot in’

Mr McDowell said Reynolds had taken the line that the report was “bad news” for Sgt McCabe and it was “fair to put the boot in”.

Mr Reynolds said he rejected the assertion and that internal RTÉ emails from the day that had been discussed at the tribunal showed it was anxious to be fair to Sgt McCabe.

In relation to his report on Sgt McCabe and penalty points, it was suggested to Reynolds he was following the “Garda line” on the matter. Reynolds said he quoted the Garda Press Office on the record and sought a comment from Sgt McCabe.

However, even though Sgt McCabe had an issue with what Reynolds was reporting, he "or somebody" decided to wait until that night's Prime Time programme, six and a half hours later, before giving his point of view.

Meanwhile the report he disputed remained unchanged on the RTÉ news website.

Mr Reynolds said he stood over his interpretation of the matter, which had to do with whether a direction from then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to Sgt McCabe telling him to stop accessing the Garda Pulse system, also directed him to co-operate with an inquiry then going on into the penalty points system.

At the time, the tribunal heard, Mr Callinan was concerned material from the Garda computer system relating to penalty points was being accessed by Sgt McCabe, given to third parties, and ending up in the public domain.

The tribunal heard Sgt McCabe secretly recorded a conversation with a chief superintendent Mark Curran when Mr Callinan's direction was being read out to him, and that transcripts of the conversation were later given to Prime Time by Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal is investigating Ms O'Sullivan's alleged influence on the RTÉ broadcasts as well as a claim by the former head of the Garda Press Office, Supt Dave Taylor, that he was directed in 2013 by the then Garda Commissioner, Mr Callinan, to smear Sgt McCabe.

The claim has been rejected by Mr Callinan.

In his evidence Supt Taylor has said Reynolds was one of eleven journalists he spoke to as part of the campaign.

Responding to John Ferry BL, for Sgt Taylor, Reynolds said he was never negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe by anyone.

“As far as I am concerned there was no smear campaign,” Reynolds said. “It didn’t exist.”

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

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