From top: Alison O’Reilly, of the Irish Daily Mail and Debbie McCann, crime correspondent of the Irish Mail on Sunday are at loggerheads over alleged smears against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe
The Disclosures Tribunal is expected to hear exactly what Irish Mail on Sunday journalist Debbie McCann’s position is on allegations made to the tribunal about her by her Irish Daily Mail colleague Alison O’Reilly.
[Ms O’Reilly was the source of Labour leader Brendan Howlin’s claims in the Dail in February 2017 – in which he said he had spoken to a journalist with “direct knowledge” of calls made by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan to journalists about Sgt Maurice McCabe and sexual crime allegations. Mr Howlin later clarified to say he didn’t have direct knowledge]
The tribunal this morning is also expected to hear a detailed response from the company’s solicitor Michael Keeley to a separate allegation made about him by Ms O’Reilly – that he put up his hand and said “I don’t want to know” when Ms O’Reilly was attempting to tell him that Ms McCann alleged to her that Sgt McCabe was a child abuser.
The tribunal is examining allegations of a smear campaign against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe – as alleged by the former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor.
Supt Taylor claims he was instructed by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to negatively brief journalists against Sgt McCabe.
[Mr Callinan himself is accused by five people of directly negatively briefing them about Sgt McCabe during one-to-one conversations in late 2013/early 2014 – which he denies]
Supt Taylor alleges that he was to convey to journalists that Sgt McCabe was driven by maliciousness and motivated by revenge due to an allegation of sexual assault made against him in 2006.
This was the allegation made by a Ms D – the daughter of a former Garda colleague of Sgt McCabe who was sanctioned after Sgt McCabe made a complaint on foot of the colleague attending the scene of a suicide after drinking alcohol.
In April 2007, the DPP found Ms D’s allegation had no foundation.
Supt Taylor alleges he was instructed to tell journalists about this allegation and to tell them that the DPP ruled against a prosecution, but that he was to convey that it was the “root cause” of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about malpractice within An Garda Siochana.
The tribunal has heard that three journalists called to the home of the Ms D house in early 2014 – IMOS’s Debbie McCann, the Irish Sun’s Eavan Murray and the Irish Independent’s Paul Williams.
Only one of those journalists subsequently wrote stories about Sgt McCabe which were published – Mr Williams.
However, the tribunal is attempting to find out what prompted them to visit the house of Ms D seven years after the DPP found the allegation had no foundation and if it was down to any negative briefing by gardai.
Ms McCann, the tribunal has heard, was the first journalist to knock on Ms D’s home at some point in February 2014.
It’s been the evidence of the D family – and it’s corroborated in a statement made to the tribunal by Ms McCann – that Ms McCann was effectively turned away from the door by Mrs D.
But Ms O’Reilly gave evidence yesterday claiming Ms McCann told her that she interviewed Ms D for an hour – during which Ms D was “visibly shaking” as she told her story to Ms McCann.
When the massive discrepancy was put to Ms O’Reilly yesterday, she suggested Ms McCann was either not telling the truth back then or is not telling the truth now.
Ms O’Reilly also claims that, during another conversation in which Ms McCann said the story was true and that Ms D was going to meet Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ms O’Reilly asked Ms McCann: “Where is it coming from, like? Your pal Nóirín?” and Ms O’Reilly claims Ms McCann said “yes”.
It’s also been claimed by Ms O’Reilly – who is currently taking legal action against her employer over separate matters – that Ms McCann told her that her father, retired detective superintendent John McCann, had confirmed the story. [Mr McCann is due to scheduled evidence].
Specifically, Ms O’Reilly has told the tribunal the following:
“I was told by my former colleague in the Irish Mail on Sunday, Debbie McCann, between 2013 and 2014 that Superintendent Dave Taylor and then acting Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, told her Maurice McCabe abused a girl when she was a child. Debbie told me that the abuse was covered up because Mr McCabe was a Garda and the case was never given a Pulse number.”
The tribunal has also seen texts between Ms McCann to Ms O’Reilly in which she said came after the Guerin Report which was published in May 2014 which vindicated Sgt McCabe’s raising of complaints about the gardai.
At this point, Ms O’Reilly would have met Sgt McCabe and told him that there were rumours going around about him. Ms O’Reilly said she didn’t believe them but she felt Ms McCann did.
Ms O’Reilly texted Ms McCann:
“A highly respected officer held in ‘high regard'” — in quotation marks — “is how judge Guerin describes McCabe.”
Ms McCann texted Ms O’Reilly:
“I am fully aware and, to be honest, I think it’s gross. There is a very messed up girl at the heart of it and no one gives a fuck.”
Ms McCann to Ms O’Reilly:
“It’s a farce. Everyone knows, from politicians to cops to journos. It’s an fucking pantomime”.
Ms McCann to Ms O’Reilly:
“Sorry for Shatter? It’s just like a house of cards. Self-preservation is the name of the game. It’s one big sordid game. Nóirín should get the job, she’d be fab, and it’ll be the ultimate knee-jerk reaction if they go down the civilian route. I also feel for Callinan. What a way for his career to end. The tape thing is one big f-ing smokescreen designed to save political face, and at what cost? Justice will be the biggest loser if the government continues the way it’s going. It’s disgusting.”
Yesterday after Hugh Moran SC, for Ms McCann and the Mail titles, put questions to Ms O’Reilly – and claimed the alleged conversation with Ms McCann in which Ms McCann recounted interviewing Ms D never happened – Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, stepped in and said:
“..nearly an hour of the witness’s [Ms O’Reilly’s] evidence today, in the first instance, concerned conversations that the witness says that she had with Debbie McCann. A lot of that is highly significant as far as the Tribunal is concerned. It includes Debbie McCann’s interactions, or stated interactions with Superintendent Taylor, how she came to know the address of Ms. D, her interaction with her own father.
“That has been in circulation for a long period of time now, and, despite repeated requests of Ms. McCann, both by the investigators and by the Tribunal, we actually don’t have a different version of events. And obviously under the rule in Browne v Dunn, there is an obligation on the party to put an alternative version of events, and I’m just wondering where the Tribunal stands in relation to this. Are we to take it that this evidence is accepted because it hasn’t been challenged?”
Mr Mohan told the tribunal yesterday that he didn’t wish to add to Ms McCann’s statement – which states she wasn’t part of any smear campaign but doesn’t directly address what Ms O’Reilly says Ms McCann said in their conversations.
It follows the situation last week when Supt Taylor gave evidence, counsel for Ms McCann – who is claiming journalistic privilege – did not cross examine Mr Taylor, who has told the tribunal he negatively briefed Ms McCann about Sgt McCabe.
Mr Mohan read Ms McCann’s statement into the record of the tribunal again yesterday before saying he had nothing more to add.
But Mr Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, said:
“With the greatest of respect, sir, that doesn’t come anywhere close with dealing with the evidence that’s been presented to the Tribunal. A witness cannot — or a party cannot simply rely on a broad general statement when specifics have been given of conversations had with the witness. Now, if the witness’s evidence isn’t being challenged, the Tribunal will have to take it, in my respectful submission, on the basis that the evidence stands.”
In addition, Judge Peter Charleton said:
“You know, it may be that your client is taking a strong view I don’t want Alison O’Reilly cross-examined, but, I am sorry, she can’t take that view and, as counsel appearing on her behalf, you can’t take that view, because I actually have a right to hear what the alternative version of a conversation is. If the evidence were to be, for instance, oh, I don’t remember any such conversation and it’s highly unlikely that I ever had such a conversation, well that is an instruction.
“It may not be very satisfactory in terms of judging Ms. O’Reilly’s reaction to it, but certainly many, many people have told me in this Tribunal, ‘I forget completely’, but that may be it. But if in the event it’s merely a question of forgetting completely and if Ms. O’Reilly has a very good recollection, well then I have to consider that when I go back to try and formulate a finding of fact on this. And it actually is important..”
Following this, Mr Mohan said he would take further instructions.
It should be said Ms O’Sullivan denies ever speaking to Ms McCann about Sgt McCabe.
Mr Mohan has also suggested to Ms O’Reilly – whom he said has “a three-pronged legal attack against” her employer – that she has made the claims about Ms McCann to the tribunal to do “repetitional damage” to her employers.
Ms O’Reilly rejected this.
Meanwhile, the tribunal is also expected to hear a response from the Mail’s solicitor Michael Keeley about a claim made by Ms O’Reilly in respect of a meeting she had with him after the tribunal wrote to journalists to come forward with any information they had.
The tribunal heard that Mr Keeley’s account of this meeting in the Conrad Hotel on April 5, 2017, included the line:
She did not speak with Brendan Howlin, TD, and was not a source for his Dáil statements about Sergeant McCabe on 8th February 2017.
The tribunal has heard that Mr Keeley’s account was given to Ms O’Reilly for her approval and she didn’t correct it.
Mr Mohan accused Ms O’Reilly of lying to Mr Keeley.
But Ms O’Reilly said yesterday:
“I didn’t lie to Michael Keeley. I actually didn’t know if I was or wasn’t [Mr Howlin’s source]. He had said he’d spoke to a number of journalists. I accept it now, I accept it now, and I’ve told the Tribunal I accept it, but at the time he had said he had checked these things out with other reporters.”
In addition, of her meeting with Mr Keeley, Ms O’Reilly said:
“Chairman, I went to a meeting with Michael Keeley after receiving a letter from the Tribunal and he asked me a series of questions and he asked me did I ever hear the rumour about Maurice McCabe being a child abuser, and I said yes, I did.
“And I went to tell him who it was and he put his hand up and he said, I don’t want to know. And I thought, well, what are we doing here? I mean, do we tell the truth or do we not tell the truth? And then he went on, maybe question five or six he said: Did you meet Maurice McCabe? I said I did. I asked him to do an interview. I said, Michael, I actually feel very sorry for Maurice McCabe. And he said — he put his pen down and he looked at me, he was sitting there, and I was sitting here, and he said: You know, nobody comes out of a Tribunal looking okay, even if they’re trying to be the good guy. And I said, do you know what? I’m not telling you anything. I was terrified, absolutely terrified.
Mr Mohan said:
He [Mr Keeley] made it clear that he did not want to be put in a position where sources were told to him in that context. I think it’s a different version of events, but in that context that was the basis of what was said.
Judge Charleton said:
“No, but this is actually important, because we have been spending the last year-and-a-half trying to find out things that we have been charged by the Oireachtas to do, and it is, this is our country, we owe allegiance to it. We are tasked with trying to find this information out. Now, it’s appropriate, if you have a different version of the conversation, to please put it.
“…source or no source, the Tribunal had asked for information, and I am now being told that that was blocked. Now, that’s important. If there is a different version, I really ought to know..”
Meanwhile, it should be noted that yesterday, Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, indicated that new material has been brought to the attention of the tribunal when he asked journalist Gemma O’Doherty if she heard of any journalist – other than Mr Williams, Ms McCann and Ms Murray – as having attempted to call to the D household. [She didn’t].
Mr Marrinan posed this question “in the light of recent developments and information that has come into the possession of the Tribunal “ – suggesting that perhaps another journalist has been identified as having gone or attempted to go to the D house with the view of interviewing her…
The tribunal continues.