Media deceived by leaked extracts from O’Higgins commission

Some journalists ‘taken in by’ Supt Dave Taylor, says Mr Justice Charleton

Irish Examiner journalist Michael Clifford: came across as “a serious-minded and careful journalist” in his evidence to the tribunal.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Irish Examiner journalist Michael Clifford: came across as “a serious-minded and careful journalist” in his evidence to the tribunal. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The media was deceived by unidentified people who leaked selected extracts from the confidential proceedings of the O’Higgins commission, the Disclosures Tribunal has said.

A full reading of the commission transcript by the tribunal has shown that nothing of the kind that was alleged at the time of the leaks ever happened, Mr Justice Peter Charleton has found in his report published on Thursday.

The leaks, in 2016, sparked a massive controversy about the instructions allegedly given by the then Garda commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, to her legal team at the confidential hearings of the commission.

A public controversy began to flow in “florid form”, leading to a flurry of communications at high levels as to how the commissioner should respond, Mr Justice Charleton said.

“It seems that our public life is now to be dominated by spin and that plain speaking is elided in favour of meaningless public relations speak.”

Mr Justice Charleton described as “regrettable” the delay encountered in getting co-operation from journalists who were asked if they had had contact with the former head of the Garda Press Office, Supt Dave Taylor.

Some of the journalists had concerns about their duties in relation to confidential sources.

‘Independent reporter’

Mr Justice Charleton did not accept charges against RTÉ journalist Paul Reynolds in relation to reports broadcast in May 2016 about the findings of the O’Higgins commission. “What Paul Reynolds did was honest,” Mr Justice Charleton found. “He was not under the directions of Garda Headquarters and he went about his job as an intelligent and independent reporter. In no sense was he a tool of the higher echelons of Garda Headquarters.”

The judge said that Irish Examiner journalist Michael Clifford, who broke many of the stories about the McCabe affair, including the leaks about the O’Higgins commission, came across as “a serious-minded and careful journalist” in his evidence to the tribunal.

“It is clear that in his professional work he took every reasonable precaution to obviate error.”

Mr Justice Charleton said he accepted the evidence of Conor Lally, Crime and Security Editor with The Irish Times, who said it was not the case that he had been briefed negatively about Sgt McCabe as claimed by Supt Taylor

Mind ‘biased’

The judge said someone had “strongly biased the mind of [Irish Mail on Sunday journalist] Debbie McCann against Maurice McCabe.” This was not her father, retired Det Supt John McCann, or Ms O’Sullivan, but Supt Taylor, the judge said.

Ms McCann was “sucked into the orbit of Supt David Taylor” who had provided details to her about Ms D, a woman who made a claim of child sex abuse against Sgt McCabe in 2006 which was comprehensively dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Justice Charleton said details about Ms D were given to Ms McCann and Eavan Murray of the Irish Sun by Supt Taylor: “They were taken in by him.”

He said that when Supt Taylor gave a list of nine journalists to the tribunal as people he had spoken to about Sgt McCabe, he left out the names of Ms Murray and Ms McCann and of journalist Cathal McMahon, then of the Irish Mirror.

Mr Justice Charleton said that Mr McMahon had been directed by Supt Taylor towards Ms D’s home so that he could interview her and “cause as much trouble for Maurice McCabe as possible”.