RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes has made a statement to the Charleton Tribunal concerning a conversation he had with the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan about whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Mr Boucher-Hayes is believed to be the first journalist to give details of a such a conversation to the tribunal.
The tribunal is investigating allegations that senior Garda management directed a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
In his statement it is understood Mr Boucher-Hayes said that during an off-air conversation with the then commissioner in 2013 about matters disclosed by Sgt McCabe, he was told that Sgt McCabe had personal issues and was being driven by a particular agenda.
He said the top garda recommended that he should get further details from the then head of the Garda press office, Supt David Taylor, who was with the commissioner in RTÉ at the time. Mr Boucher-Hayes did not follow up on this suggestion.
There was no comment yesterday from Mr Boucher-Hayes or RTÉ and efforts to contact Mr Callinan were unsuccessful.
The tribunal’s terms of reference include investigating whether current commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan influenced or attempted to influence broadcasts on RTÉ on May 9th, 2016, purporting to be a leaked account of the unpublished O’Higgins Commission report, in which Sgt McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible.
An important witness in this regard will be Boucher-Hayes's RTÉ colleague, crime correspondent Paul Reynolds.
The tribunal is also investigating Supt Taylor’s allegation, in a protected disclosure, that he was directed to draw journalists’ attention to an allegation of criminal misconduct made against Sgt McCabe and to say the sergeant was motivated in his actions by a desire for revenge against the Garda.
One of the topics aired during a recent sitting of the tribunal in relation to legal representation, was how the tribunal would address the topic of journalistic confidentiality, or privilege.
Since then the tribunal is understood to have written to a number of journalists whom the tribunal believes were in contact with Supt Taylor, to ask about the details of these contacts and whether they involved remarks damaging to the reputation of Sgt McCabe.
Given that the tribunal is investigating an alleged smear campaign, the testimony of journalists who might give evidence of being briefed by senior Garda management against Sgt McCabe has obvious relevance.
However, media organisations are concerned about the effect that co-operation with the inquiry could have on people’s sense of assurance that reporters would maintain the confidentiality of off-the-record disclosures.
While media organisations have pressed the tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, to outline his views on the issue of journalistic privilege, the Supreme Court judge has asked that he first be told whether any particular journalists have information that is relevant to the tribunal's terms of reference.
Mr Justice Charleton said in March that he was being asked to grant legal representation to media organisations, but journalists were not saying to him whether they had any relevant information.
In February, Mr Justice Charleton asked if journalistic privilege attached to communications “where that communication by the source may not be in the public interest but, instead, where the source is perhaps solely motivated by detraction or calumny?”