From top: Irish Times Security and Crime Editor Conor Lally (centre) and Paul O’Neill, Irish Times Editor (right); Mr Lally (third right), with the paper’s legal representatives at Dublin Castle; Sgt Maurice McCabe
Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of the Irish Times having previously served as the paper’s crime correspondent and before that as a reporter with The Evening Herald and The Sunday Tribune.
The first article to name Sgt Maurice McCabe under Mr Lally’s byline appeared on January 24, 2014 and would provide a template for his coverage of this scandal over the next four years.
The piece concerned then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s attempts to block Sgt McCabe from appearing in front of the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr Lally wrote:
Of Sgt McCabe, Mr Callinan said as a serving member of the force he could be subject to discipline.
While he didn’t want the message going out that he was considering such action, “it’s something I must reserve my position on”, he said. “How can I manage the force unless I have access to that kind of control?”
As a rule, he said, serving gardaí should not use an Oireachtas committee as a “platform” to air grievances or raise concerns about the force. The Commissioner should not be “usurped by subordinates”.
He stressed the allegations had been made by just two individuals from a force of over 13,000, adding there was not a “whisper” from any other garda that they were true.
This was the day after Mr Callinan, at the PAC meeting, described the actions of Sgt McCabe and Garda John Wilson as ‘disgusting’.
Mr Lally attended the PAC meeting but made no mention of the remark.
[Correction: Mr Lally did report on the ‘disgusting’ remark in an online article posted more than 24 hours after the PAC meeting at 7pm on Friday, January 24 , 2014 (paragraph 14 of this piece). This report, however, did not make any of the paper’s print editions.]
On Monday, January 27, 2014, Under the headline ‘The Public Accounts Committee needs to know its limits on the penalty points saga‘. Mr Lally wrote:
“If the results suggested widespread abuse of discretion, all of the cases should have been investigated. If not, an independent body would have been seen to give the Garda a clean bill of health.
Before members of the Committee get too indignant about some Gardaí being perhaps too flaithulach in cancelling penalty points, they should remember that most public representatives run clinics to help constituents secure their entitlements a little faster than everyone else.”
During the tribunal, Mr Lally was asked about this statement by Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe.
Michael McDowell: “Now, this was your opinion, and you’re entitled to your opinion, but you were effectively warning the PAC off further involvement in this matter, isn’t that right?”
Conor Lally: “Well, you see, you have left out the last paragraph there, and the last paragraph actually explains what the story is all about, and what the story is about is that the Garda Ombudsman Commission, in my view at the time, based on what I knew at the time, the Garda Ombudsman Commission would be a much better organisation to inquire into this.”
Lally: “The Sergeant McCabe controversy …”
McDowell: “Well, better…”
Lally: “I haven’t finished answering the question. The Sergeant McCabe controversy was becoming very political at the time, as it was, and my view, as expressed in this piece, was, you would take some of the air out of that balloon by allowing the Garda Ombudsman inquire into, you know, certain aspects of the controversy. So I wasn’t trying to suggest for a moment that there should be no inquiry into all of these things, there certainly should have been, but I was simply suggesting that the Ombudsman would be a better organ than the Public Accounts Committee, that is all.”
McDowell: “I have got to suggest to you that that neatly coincided with the Commissioner’s view that this was not an appropriate or fair process for Sergeant McCabe to give evidence, even in private to?”
Lally: “No, I don’t — I wouldn’t agree with you there. I think Martin Callinan’s view was, he couldn’t quite believe that somebody of the rank of sergeant was, you know, kind of putting it up to him so well in public and I think he was outraged at that. Martin Callinan had a completely different theory on all of this than I did. You know, I don’t think I share any of Martin Callinan’s views on this or anything else, to be quite frank..”
In February 2014, following Sgt McCabe’s denial of an RTÉ story by Paul Reynolds that he didn’t co-operate with the internal Garda investigation into the penalty points, by then Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney investigation, Mr Lally wrote:
His [Sgt McCabe’s] intervention on Monday was extraordinary.
It was a direct challenge from a Garda sergeant to the commissioner in public and via the media, which is without precedent. Archaic as it might seem, even his contacting of the media is in breach of Garda rules.
Sources said his whistleblower status and high public profile mean he is untouchable to those who would want to discipline him.
In the same week, under the headline: ‘McCabe has suffered bloody nose but there is plenty still to come‘, Mr Lally wrote:
The name of Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe may have only become fixed in the public consciousness in recent months, but Official Ireland has heard plenty from him over the years.
Detail about the frequency and nature of his complaints outlined by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in the Dáil yesterday painted a picture of a man who has busied himself for years in trying to expose what he sees as wholesale Garda corruption around him and not getting far.
Even allowing for the usual self serving nature of ministerial speeches, Shatter presented many facts that do not make easy reading for McCabe.
…Shatter has now set out a scenario of complaints being made repeatedly and not being upheld despite thorough investigation and of a complainant unable to accept those outcomes.
On the official appointment of Noirin O’Sullivan as Garda Commissioner in November, 2014 – having been acting the role since Martin Callinan stepped down in March 2014 – Mr Lally wrote in a piece headlined ‘Time for Garda Commissioner to use new broom’ on November 26, 2014, Mr Lally wrote:
In some quarters her appointment was greeted with delight and relief. It sidestepped the potential embarrassment of an “outsider” being brought in; an adult to sort out children who had got themselves in a bind, as it were.
Mr Lally added:
…It was when those allegations [that the penalty ponts system was continuing to be abused] emerged that O’Sullivan made her big play to convince everyone she was different to those who had gone before.
Rather than deny the allegations coming from whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe that the new system was still being abused, O’Sullivan metaphorically put her arm around him and held him close.
Mr Lally would remain an enthusiastic supporter of Ms O’Sullivan throughout her tenure.
When Ms O’Sullivan stonewalled intense questioning at the Public Accounts Committee in June, 2017, Mr Lally wrote in a piece headlined ‘Open disdain for Garda Commissioner from TDs and Senators’:
Key witnesses in murder trials have had an easier time in the witness box than Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan enjoyed before the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday.
To say many of the Senators and Dáil deputies applied distrust and incredulity as their default approach is an understatement. This was open disdain, pure and simple.
The most senior police officer in the country was at different times accused of talking down the clock, managing oversight processes to suit herself and was urged towards brevity in her responses, mostly while still mid-sentence…
On February 20, 2017, in an article that is currently the subject of legal action taken by Sgt McCabe against The Irish Times, Mr Lally interviewed Ms D.
Mr Lally’s article opened:
Eleven years after she made an allegation of sexual assault against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the woman whose complaint is at the centre of an alleged smear campaign wonders when she can begin the rest of her life.
Later, Mr Lally added:
Struggling with anxiety, depression and other issues in 2013, she was encouraged by her mother to speak to a Health Service Executive (HSE) counsellor, where she spoke about the original allegation but only, she says, when she was asked to do so.
“When she was taking it down, she said something – I don’t know her exact words; she said she’ll have to refer this on,” the woman said. “I remember straight away it got my back up. I was thinking: ‘Refer what on? This has been reported, this has been investigated and the DPP said insufficient evidence. That’s that, there’s nothing going to change, I have accepted that.’
However, Mr Lally told the Disclosures Tribunal that he first heard of the Ms D allegation against Sgt McCabe in either 2010 or 2011 and he believed, based on his understanding of the DPP’s directions, that the DPP never even entertained the allegation.
Mr Lally said “it was a dead piece of information from the off“.
If this was the case, why did Mr Lally and his newspaper pursue Ms D and repeat something they knew not to be true?
Mr Lally later said he couldn’t say when he heard of the Ms D allegation, but that he first wrote about the penalty points issue in 2012 and it was his recollection that he knew about the allegation for a year, if not longer, at that stage.
He told the tribunal::
“I actually genuinely can’t recall who told me about this, but I do recall from the first time that I heard about it, it was put to me that there was an allegation made against him, that it was investigated by the guards, that the guards recommended to the DPP that there be no prosecution, and that there was no prosecution.
And I think the person who first told me used a phrase like, you know, the case was, quote-unquote, completely thrown out by the DPP.
So even from the outset it was very, very clear to me that this had gone absolutely nowhere. And from my recollection, even the person who told me, it was kind of in the context of, you know, Sergeant McCabe fell out with An Garda Síochána and this appears to have been the start of it all.
But there was nobody trying to drive home a point that he was a bad guy or you had to be wary of him, or anything like that. From my recollection, the kind of telling of this particular story was an explainer for how he fell out with Garda management, basically.”
Mr Lally said the Ms D matter was “definitely doing the rounds in journalism circles” in 2013 and 2014 but he couldn’t identify any specific journalists to whom he was referring. He said they seemed to have the same information that he had.
Asked if he felt the Ms D matter was being put “out there” in 2013/2014 to do Sgt McCabe down, Mr Lally said:
“I didn’t get that sense. I think, though, I mean, the journalism that I was doing at the time would have been quite favourable to him, so it is quite possible people in the guards just didn’t regard me as a person that you would go to and try to convince of anything.”
Mr Lally added:
“I feel anybody reading the journalism that I was doing at the time, you would read it, and I think if anybody wanted to spread a rumour about Sergeant McCabe, I think they would know they’d be in the wrong shop if they came to my door.”
Asked if he ever spoke to Supt Taylor about Sgt McCabe, Mr Lally told the tribunal that he found it difficult to discuss his conversations with Supt Taylor “without getting into sources” but repeated that, no garda, past of present, “negatively briefed” him about Sgt McCabe.
He later said that while it may sound “bizarre” – given Supt Taylor was the head of the Garda Press Office and that he was a crime correspondent – he couldn’t recall any conversation he had with Supt Taylor about Sgt McCabe.
On April 6, 2018, Mr Lally met with the tribunal’s investigators and brought with him a pre-prepared statement.
Mr Lally also claimed journalistic privilege over his phone number in billing records provided to the tribunal.
He told the investigators:
“I’m declining to answer that on the basis of journalistic privilege. I am concerned if I answer that question it may compromise sources and breach journalistic privilege.”
In his statement Mr Lally also said:
“You will appreciate that I am not in a position to comment in any way upon discussions I may or may not have had with Superintendent Taylor or anyone else, where I am precluded from doing so by virtue of my obligations to observe journalistic privilege.
“I can, however, say in a general sense that, in working as a crime correspondent, it is quite usual to speak to all of the interested parties in relation to a specific issue for the purposes of fact-gathering and for the interested parties to give me their perspective or understanding of a particular issue, which can differ from the account or perspective of another party.
“That is the normal part of the fact-gathering process as a journalist and is not something I or any of my journalistic colleagues regard as untoward. It is for me as a reasonable, responsible journalist to reflect the differing perspectives of all parties gathered over the course of this process either in the same piece of journalism or in a body of work on the same issue over time.”
“I do not believe there is any other information I have which is relevant to the Tribunal’s terms of reference or of assistance to the Tribunal in that regard. It may nevertheless be the case that there are questions you will ask me which give rise to a concern on my part that I would infringe journalistic privilege to answer them.
“Where that arises, I will rely on journalistic privilege and decline to answer the question. In doing so, I will mean no disrespect to the Tribunal or its work. As I have said, I believe I have, in any event, addressed above the extent of the information I can give relevant to the Tribunal and its terms of reference.”
It should be noted Mr Lally’s interview with Ms D took place shortly after Labour leader Brendan Howlin, during Leaders’ Questions in February 2017, told the Dáil:
“This morning a journalist contacted me and told me they had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 in the course of which the Commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.”
Mr Howlin was relaying to the Dáil what he was told by former Irish Mail on Sunday journalist Alison O’Reilly – who claims her former colleague Debbie McCann told her Ms O’Sullivan was a source for her, along with Supt Taylor, for information on Ms D.
[Both Ms McCann and Ms O”Sullivan deny this categorically while Mr Howlin has accepted it was incorrect of him to say he had ‘direct knowledge’ and incorrect to say journalists (plural)]
It should also be noted that Mr Howlin said this in the Dáil at a time when the Government was discussing and setting the terms of reference for a private Commission of Investigation by Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton into Supt Taylor and Sgt McCabe’s protected disclosures – as opposed to what was eventually set up which was a public tribunal.
At the time of Mr Howlin’s comment in February 2017, the Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone was in possession of a letter from the chief operations officer of Tusla – since January 2017 – regarding the false rape allegation against Sgt McCabe which had been created mistakenly and committed to paper in August 2013 and sent to Tusla following on from a counselling session Ms D had in July/August 2013 (unbeknownst to Ms D).
This false allegation was reignited in April 2014 when the file was chosen randomly from a file in a Tusla office and sent to the gardai and eventually to the then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in May 2014 – of which Ms O’Sullivan has no memory. It sat there until the start of the tribunal.
Sgt McCabe wasn’t told about this false rape referral until January 2016 – when Tusla wrote to him and told him it was investigating him for rape and, despite Sgt McCabe’s solicitor Sean Costello writing back to Tusla immediately to say the claim was entirely false, Tusla didn’t acknowledge it was false until the summer of 2016.
When Mr Howlin gave his contribution to the Dail in February 2017, the Cabinet wasn’t considering the Tusla matter for inclusion in the then pending commission of investigation.
On February 10, 2017 – two days after his comments in the Dáil but more crucially a day after Katie Hannon’s Prime Time programme on the Tusla matter and Mr Clifford’s reporting of the same on the Irish Examiner website that evening before Prime Time – Mr Howlin told Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One:
“It is staggering that the Tánaiste came into the Dáil this week with a set of references, terms of reference, for an investigation without mentioning any of this [the Tusla matter]. It staggers me to think that she wouldn’t have been fully briefed at the Cabinet table by her minister for children who, clearly, was in possession of this level of detail and that wasn’t presented in the terms of reference in relation to the involvement to Tusla in all of this. None of this was mentioned by the Tánaiste in the Dáil…”
He also said Ms O’Sullivan was entitled to the presumption of innocence but he did call for Ms O’Sullivan to stand aside until all the matters were dealt with.
Explaining how his interview with Ms D came about, Mr Lally told the tribunal:
“…the idea for the article came up within the newsroom in the Irish Times and it was organised completely independently of anybody in An Garda Síochána or anything like that.”
Mr McDowell asked Mr Lally when he first found out Ms D’s name – after Mr Lally confirmed that when he heard of the Ms D allegation back in 2010 or 2011, he didn’t hear it from a guard or the D family.
Mr Lally said it was “impossible” to say when he found out Ms D’s name.
But he later conceded that it was probably on the day The Irish Times and Mr Lally decided that he would try and interview Ms D.
He later reconfirmed that the source of Ms D’s identity was neither a guard nor a journalist.
He was also categorical that the reason he interviewed Ms D wasn’t to talk to her about her allegation but, instead, it was to interview her about the false rape allegation against Sgt McCabe which was created by a social worker, after counselling sessions with Ms D, and sent to Tusla – in error, the tribunal has been told.
Mr Lally said:
“I went off and found out who she was and where she lived…I found it out through a source. It was very easy to find out. But as I say, as I said earlier, it was a source completely independent of An Garda Síochána.
I mean, at that stage the Maurice McCabe controversy was extremely toxic… I made absolutely sure that I didn’t even ring any guards on the day that I organised that interview, because I felt it was possible my phone records could be checked or anything subsequently, so I was extremely careful, and nobody in the guards was even aware that I went up there.”
Clarifying his comment about nobody in the guards knowing of his visit to Ms D, Mr Lally explained that he didn’t want any record to show afterwards that he’d spoken to any garda about the matter.
Mr Lally said:
“Because, by 2017, a lot of people had got caught up in this controversy, a lot of people had lost their jobs, and I was watching my step very carefully, that’s why….as I said to you, the events were extremely toxic…
And I wanted to make sure — I wanted to insulate myself from getting caught up in any of that, so I was just extra careful, as I always am. It’s not the first time I would have deployed that kind of tactic.”
“I mean, we have telephone records at play here at this Tribunal now; it wasn’t, you know, too hard to foresee that that could happen.
I have been at lots of court cases and lots of, you know, processes where people’s phone records are, you know, produced to show that they have been in contact with person A, B or C around the time that they’ve organised interviews or they’ve got stories, and so on.
And I just wanted to be absolutely sure, because this issue was really extremely toxic at the time, I wanted to be absolutely sure I insulated myself from any of that.”
In relation to Paul Williams’ articles in the Irish Independent in April and May 2014, Mr Lally said he can’t be sure if he was aware that the stories related to Ms D.
He also said he couldn’t recall reading the stories at the time they were published.
During the tribunal, Mr Lally was also questioned about his ‘Bloody Nose’ article referenced above.
This was was published three days after RTÉ Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds’ reports about Sgt McCabe not cooperating with the O’Mahoney investigation with the whistleblower giving a statement to journalists Katie Hannon and Mick Clifford to clarify that this was untrue.
Michael McDowell:” In what sense did you think that Sergeant McCabe had suffered a bloody nose that week?”
Conor Lally:. “Well, I suppose, I would have to read the article.”
McDowell: “Please do.”
Lally:.” Yeah. Yeah, I remember the piece at the time now. I think it was Alan Shatter had got up in the Dáil and he’d basically said that, he basically tried to put forward the proposition that Sergeant McCabe’s complaints had been previously investigated. I mean, that was the general, that was the general tone.”
McDowell:. “Yes. And you took the view that he had inflicted a bloody nose on Sergeant McCabe in public at that time?”
Lally:. “On that day, yes. But I also wrote stories at the time…”
McDowell. “Because you had written on that subject that “the O’Mahony inquiry presented as an option rather on an order”?
Lally: “Yeah. So basically what happened there was, basically what happened there was, I think it was RTÉ, I can’t quite recall now, RTÉ ran a report basically saying that Maurice McCabe hadn’t complied with an order to cooperate with the John O’Mahony inquiry and we did some journalism then in response to that report. I am pretty sure RTÉ broke the story. And of course this is the article here that you’ve brought me to now, which supports Maurice McCabe’s version of accounts.”
Lally: “And completely backs his version of accounts. So as you can see — I mean, it’s very easy to go through a person’s journalism and pick out one piece here and one piece there and try and put forward a piece…”
McDowell: “I’m not trying to be unfair to you at all, Mr. Lally… what I am suggesting to you is that two or three days later you are saying that McCabe has suffered bloody nose.”
Lally: “Yes. But you see, in my journalism I don’t pick out the people that I’m going to support and the people that I’m going to attack. I cover the events as they go. And events ebb and flow and there was plenty of ebb and plenty of flow at this particular controversy. So, over the course of time my journalism reflected that ebb and flow precisely because it was neutral and it was independent, and I reported with neither fear nor favour to anybody.”
Lally: “We weren’t in there — you know, we weren’t in there doing journalism on behalf of everybody. We gave everybody the same treatment.”
Supt David Taylor told the tribunal that, apart from “negatively briefing” Mr Lally about Sgt McCabe – which Mr Lally denies – Supt Taylor also said that Mr Lally was the only journalist to push back against him.
He said Mr Lally “pushed back and basically said he didn’t believe it” when he [Supt Taylor] conveyed to him that Sgt McCabe hadn’t cooperated with Asst Commissioner John O’Mahoney’s report.
Asked about this, Mr Lally initially said:
“As I have said in my statement to the Tribunal, I really can’t get into, for reasons of source protection I really can’t get into specific conversations that I had with individual Garda members.”
He then said:
“I just don’t recognise what he’s saying. I just, I have no recollection of anything, of the events as he outlines them here.”
Last month, as the Disclosures Tribunal reached its close, Mr Lally, who was initially cautious of an outsider running the force, welcomed the appointment of the PSNI”s Drew Harris as new Garda Commissioner, wrriting:
‘What he must absolutely achieve, perhaps above and before any of the other items in his in-tray, is to end the scandals that have beset the Garda in recent years.’
Mr Lally added:
‘His must be seen as a new tenure; a true break from the past.’
Tomorrow: Maurice McCabe and The Irish Times Part 2
Yesterday: Maurice McCabe And RTÉ
Update: Maurice McCabe And The irish Times: Part 2 here