The Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe is to consider overnight whether he is withdrawing an allegation he made against RTÉ and its crime correspondent Paul Reynolds.
Mr Reynolds is to return to the Charleton Tribunal for his third day in the witness box on Friday as the tribunal investigates a claim that the then Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan, attempted to influence reports broadcast by RTÉ on May 9th, 2016 “in which Sgt McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible”.
The reports were based on the then unpublished O’Higgins Commission report which investigated matters to do with complaints by Sgt McCabe.
The sergeant, in a protected disclosure in September 2016, said he had it “on impeccable authority” that the broadcasts were “planned and orchestrated by the commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan, personally, using briefing material prepared at Garda headquarters.”
The reference to an “impeccable authority” was to the head of Garda human resources, John Barrett, who has now told the tribunal in a statement that Sgt McCabe is incorrect.
Noel Whelan BL, for Garda HQ, asked if in the circumstances Sgt McCabe was still maintaining his claim. Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, said he would consult with his client overnight but that the claim might not be sustained.
Mr Reynolds told the tribunal that in the week prior to his broadcasts he received a number of copies of the unpublished report in order to be sure that he had the final one. He then, he said, based his reports on what was in the report. His source, he said, was the report and what he reported were the findings of the commission chairman, Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins.
He said it was his belief that Garda HQ had not known about the reports until they were broadcast and that Ms O’Sullivan was not happy with them.
Mr Reynolds told Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal, that he had never been briefed negatively by the former head of the Garda Press Office, Supt Dave Taylor, as part of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
Supt Taylor has named 11 journalists he says he spoke to as part of the alleged campaign, including Mr Reynolds.
Mr Reynolds said he used the word “lied” in his reports about Sgt McCabe in May 2016 because he felt journalists had a duty to “tell it as it is”.
The May 9th reports led the station’s TV and radio news programmes throughout the day.
The O'Higgins Commission sat in private and investigated complaints made by Sgt McCabe about policing standards in Co Cavan as well as complaints the sergeant made against senior Garda officers including former commissioner Martin Callinan.
The report upheld many of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about policing standards but said his allegations against the senior officers were unfounded.
It said Sgt McCabe had never been less than truthful in his evidence to the commission but that he was prone to exaggeration. It also said he had told an “untruth” in one case examined by the commission.
Asked by Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal, why he had chosen to change the word “untruth” to “lie”, Mr Reynolds said he felt journalists had a duty not to use diplomatic language and to “tell it as it is.”
Mr Justice O'Higgins found that Sgt McCabe had, in 2008, when reporting to Supt Mick Clancy, said that a complaint had been made to the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) in relation to a particular Garda investigation "although he [SGT MCCABE]was aware that this was not the case."
Sgt McCabe “told the commission that the reason for this untruth was that he felt [TWO PARTIES]had been badly treated and that he knew that the reference to GSOC would ensure that the matter would receive attention. While his concern was genuine and commendable it is unacceptable to furnish false information in a report.”
Mr Reynolds said that in the circumstances he believed the use of the word lied was justified.
At 1pm on May 9th RTÉ received a letter from Sean Costello, solicitor for Sgt McCabe, saying that Mr Reynolds had "grossly defamed" his client and that Mr Reynolds' reports were "utterly unbalanced and incorrect".
The letter also said it “appeared” Mr Reynolds had taken a briefing from “interested parties” and that it was “clear” that the briefing by any such parties was done with the view of “destroying” the reputation of Sgt McCabe.
Mr Reynolds said there was no implication in the broadcasts that Sgt McCabe had acted irresponsibly.
He continues his evidence on Friday.
The outgoing group news editor of Independent News and Media, Stephen Rae, said any suggestion the group had pushed “the garda line” in relation to the McCabe controversy was completely untrue.
He said he believed 98pc of the group’s coverage of the topic was “positive towards the sergeant”.
He said that if the garda press office had been “plugging a particular line” about the sergeant with Independent journalists, he would have heard.