Clockwise from top left: Sgt Maurice McCabe and Michael McDowell; Fionnan Sheahan, Colum Kenny, Terry Prone, Ian Mallon, Tom Brady and Anne Harris.
On March 25, 2014, the morning after Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s resignation, Terry Prone wrote an opinion piece for the Irish Independent.
In her article, the public relations expert said there was no need for the commissioner to have fallen on the “whistleblower sword”.
Mr Callinan had resigned in the wake of multiple scandals within the force and for describing the actions of Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson as “disgusting” at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing.
What Mr Callinan could have done, Ms Prone suggested, was simply talk the clock down with endless detail and strictly adhere to answers that fall within PAC’s own narrow remit.
Mr Callinan’s second mistake was not grasping what being a whistleblower meant in 2014.
According to Ms Prone:
“He [Mr Callinan] may not have understood, for example, that the minute the title whistleblower is publicly put on someone, they acquire a new role in society and a new status to match.
They are newly impregnable. They develop a sort of double-whammy credibility; if someone impugns their assumed virtue, the accuser will be disbelieved.
But even if it is provable that the whistleblower has the odd flaw, it doesn’t matter. What matters are the accusations and the stories they generate.”
Ms Prone would soon be advising Mr Callinan’s acting replacement Noirin O’Sullivan while also at the same time, as is her wont, advising Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Ms Prone’s assessment became a blueprint for Ms O’Sullivan’s public relations strategy in the next two years concerning both Sgt McCabe and the Public Accounts Committee.
Never again would a Commissioner trip up like this again.
Garda management would, from now on, openly praise Sgt McCabe without reservation.
And PAC appearances by Ms O’Sullivan would become contemptuous studies in futility.
Sgt McCabe was offered a job to help oversee the new penalty points system brought about because of his efforts.
Ms O’Sullivan in the words of one impressed journalist, had “metaphorically put her arm around” Sgt McCabe.
Meanwhile, It would be left to Garda lawyers and certain journalists to do what was necessary to cast doubt around Sgt McCabe,
And it worked, for a while.
But the contrast between Ms O’Sullivan’s show of jovial warmth and Sgt McCabe’s reality within the force proved too great.
The sheer magnitude of spin was unsustainable.
When it emerged that Ms O’Sullivan’s legal team had been instructed to attack Sgt McCabe’s motivation and integrity during the O’Higgins Commission, the narrative collapsed.
Ms O’Sullivan, along with Ms Fitzgerald, would fall to the “whistleblower sword” as a result.
The first mention of Sgt Maurice McCabe in the Irish Independent came following Martin Callinan’s appearance before PAC on Thursday, January 23, 2014.
This was the occasion when Mr Callinan described the behaviour of Sgt McCabe and former Garda John Wilson as “disgusting”.
Mr Callinan’s appearance was covered by Irish Independent Security Editor Tom Brady and its then Public Affairs Editor Shane Phelan.
There was an analysis of Mr Callinan’s performance by Mr Brady and a humorous sketch of events by Lise Hand, plus an editorial by the paper’s then editor Claire Grady.
However, Mr Callinan’s ”disgusting” remark was mentioned only once, in the seventh paragraph of Mr Brady and Mr Phelan’s article, which stated without direct quotes:
He [Martin Callinan] described the behaviour of the two whistleblowers as disgusting in opting to make unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and criminality against senior colleagues in a public forum.
However, Sgt McCabe never alleged corruption or criminality against senior officers.
On day seven of the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, Chief Supt Terry McGinn, who first investigated Sgt McCabe’s allegations, gave evidence about the nature of Sgt McCabe’s complaints.
Shief Supt McGinn said:
“In relation to Sergeant McCabe’s complaint, he particularly told me… that his complaints were not against Garda sergeants, his complaints were against Garda management and their failure to, and I summarise it here, I have other words, as I was exploring what Sergeant McCabe said to me. And he said:
‘In all of my statements and exhibits, my purpose was to highlight poor standards, poor work practices and failure by Garda management to address these issues. I am also concerned at the service provided by the Gardaí to the public. I am not alleging corruption or criminality by any members or nor have I any evidence to support this allegation‘.”
The Irish Independent‘s coverage focused on Mr Callinan’s attempts to stop Sgt McCabe from appearing before the committee the following week.
Mr Brady, in his analysis, wrote:
‘While committee members may genuinely believe they can assist in establishing the veracity of the allegations it is easy to understand why Mr Callinan should be concerned that a serving member of the force [Sgt McCabe] be allowed to hurl serious allegations of criminality against senior officers who are not there to defend themselves.’
Mr Brady added:
“He [Mr Callinan] is right in his interpretation of the move that it could seriously undermine discipline in the force if every member felt it was possible to run to a Dáil committee with a grievance.”
Dublin City University professor Colum Kenny told the tribunal that, in early 2014, Mr Brady – and RTÉ’s crime correspondent Paul Reynolds – told him Sgt McCabe was being investigated for child sex abuse. (full report on RTE’s coverage of Maurice McCabe here)
Mr Kenny claims this conversation came about because he had approached them to ask why they weren’t asking questions about a computer which had gone missing from Garda custody – with the disappearance having been blamed on Sgt McCabe.
Mr Kenny said he felt Mr Brady and Mr Reynolds were telling him to “cop himself on” and to “not take Sgt McCabe at face value”.
The professor also claimed the two journalists encouraged him to go and talk to gardai “up there”, which Mr Kenny took to mean gardai in Cavan/Monaghan.
Mr Kenny said the two journalists definitely did not indicate that the child sex abuse allegation was the Ms D allegation of 2006 which had been categorically dismissed by the DPP in 2007.
Mr Reynolds, who knew of the Ms D allegation and the DPP’s directions in 2013, and Mr Brady, who also heard of the Ms D allegation and the DPP’s directions in 2013, say they never had such a conversation with Mr Kenny.
Mr Brady did recall one time that he spoke about Sgt McCabe with Professor Kenny.
He said this was at a pensions protest meeting in the Alexander Hotel, Dublin in November 2016 – at which point the protected disclosures of both Sgt McCabe and Supt Taylor would have been reported upon.
Mr Brady said:
“I had a discussion with him, most of that discussion centred on the pensions and then we went on to talk about my career, had I retired, what I was doing then. I told him and he mentioned Sergeant McCabe, he said something about either had contacted him or was going to contact him.
“I said I’d written nothing about Sergeant McCabe from a personal viewpoint, that any stories I did was to do with the fallout from what Sergeant McCabe had said and the various stories that arose from it.
“On a personal basis, I had written nothing other than at one stage I checked out a rumour about sexual abuse allegations made against him, and I established that that was historic, that had taken place in 2006 and that it had been fully investigated with the Gardaí, a file to the DPP and the DPP rejected it all.
“And that was as much as I knew about it and I didn’t do anything else in connection with that or in connection with Sergeant McCabe, whom I have never spoken to either in person or I have never phoned.”
Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, asked Mr Brady about his knowledge of his colleague Paul Williams’ articles about Sgt McCabe and Ms D in April and May 2014 [full report on this in Part 1].
Mr Brady said he was aware “from talk in the newsroom” that Mr Williams was working on “some story” but that, at the time, he wasn’t sure “what exactly it was”.
Mr McDowell asked Mr Brady if he was consulted – given he had heard about the Ms D allegation in 2013, checked it out and satisfied himself that the DPP dismissed the matter – by his editorial staff in March/April/May 2014 about the decision to publish Mr Williams’ articles.
Mr Brady said no.
Asked if he was “surprised” when the Irish Independent ran the series of articles, Mr Brady said
“No, I wasn’t surprised. I’d heard the story was being done.”
Mr McDowell and Mr Brady then had this exchange:
McDowell: “We have heard from Mr [Ian] Mallon [former Group News Editor at INM] that in 2014 the Ms D allegation was widely spoken about in the Irish Independent or in INM at the time, I’m just trying to work out how you fit into the scene, knowing what you say you knew about the matter, how a story of that kind was published in those circumstances?”
Brady: “Well, I wasn’t involved at all. Nobody asked me to get involved, so I didn’t. Paul Williams worked mainly outside the newspaper, he worked on his own, he worked on quite a lot of stories, he was working on the Anglo tapes and I wasn’t involved in any of his stories.”
McDowell: “Yeah. I mean, without seeming to flatter you or cajole you in any way, I think you had a very strong reputation as a person who wrote with some degree of authority on matters to do with security in An Garda Síochána at the time, would you agree with that?”
Brady: “Well, I have a lot of experience perhaps of this.”
McDowell: “Yes. And it was generally believed that if you wrote something, it was well sourced and well regarded as likely to come from close to the top in An Garda Síochána rather than relying on station gossip and things like that?”
Brady: “Well, my practice was to go as high as I could in relation to any story, Chairman.”
McDowell: “Yes. And I’m just trying to work out, in those circumstances, you having checked it out and you having satisfied yourself there was nothing in it, how your newspaper decided to run a story which is — which was trailing a coat, so to speak, for the Ms. D allegation?”
Brady: “Well, I don’t think there was anything in the story that conflicted with the little bit of information that I had. It didn’t suggest that there was something to the allegation or suggest that…”
McDowell: “Well, I understood you to say that the DPP had dismissed it, and that wasn’t simply a phrase which includes was unhappy with the evidence, it’s more than that; the DPP had said there was effectively nothing in it?”
Brady: “Nothing in it, yeah, no crime.
McDowell:” And then how was it newsworthy that an allegation of no substance was or was not properly investigated?”
Brady: “Well, it wasn’t my decision, it was based on whatever Paul Williams had established from his inquiries and I was not privy to what exactly he had.”
McDowell: “Are you surprised that you weren’t consulted…”
McDowell: “…in relation to the publication of this story?”
Brady: No, Chairman, no.
Then they later shared this exchange:
McDowell: I”‘m suggesting to you that the decision to publish the Williams stories, the articles, was in the circumstances one which revisited an issue which you had investigated and had found to have no substance whatsoever in it?
Brady: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t privy to all the information that was there. Obviously all the information that Paul Williams and perhaps others had gathered wouldhave been considered before a decision was taken. I was never consulted, I was not asked to any of the meetings, and without being privy to all the information that they had, I can’t really say.”
While the daily paper published Mr Williams’ articles about Ms D and increasingly favourable coverage of Ms O’Sullivan, the group’s Sunday edition highlighted Sgt McCabe’s version of events and his struggle to be heard.
Anne Harris, then Sunday Independent editor, told the tribunal that she first heard of the Ms D allegation from a freelance journalist at an editorial meeting in May, 2013 following a major story in her paper on the penalty points scandal.
Ms Harris said:
… I used my own sources and I set about inquiring what — if this had ever reached any sort of further currency or further — if there had been anything further on it, and I discovered that the DPP had looked into it and had discovered that this matter had been groundless.
So I was satisfied with this and I was more than happy to continue with the, with just proper, appropriate and prominent coverage of Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s concerns.”
In September 2014, following an editorial meeting, Ms Harris said Fionnan Sheahan, then group political editor, raised the matter.
Ms Harris said:
“At the end of the conference, towards the end of September, everybody had left, he’d gone out the door, he turned back, came to the office and said, because the last conversation had been about, at the conference, had been about Sergeant Maurice McCabe and he said he’s a paedophile, McCabe’s a pedophile. And I was — I was shocked.”
Mr Sheahan, now editor of the Irish Independent, denied this in the strongest terms.
He said the charge did not stand up against the work he did around the Maurice McCabe story and disputed it was even something that he would ever say.
Mr Sheahan challenged Ms Harris on a specific time and date and questioned whether he was in the country when the comment was alleged to have been made.
He said Ms Harris was driven by a grudge against him and certain editors that had begun when Denis O’Brien ousted Tony O’Reilly as INM’s largest shareholder.
Mr Sheahan said he heard about the Ms D allegation in ‘2013 going into 2014’.
Asked by Darren Lehane BL, for Anne Harris, why he had not pursued the veracity of the allegation then, Mr Sheahan said:
“I have national media awards sitting on my desk because I pursued stories as a journalist which started off with basic hard facts.
So I know the difference between gossip, rumour, innuendo and ephemera and actual hard facts that are verifiable and can be chased down and put out there into the national media…”
In a letter to the tribunal before his appearance, Mr Sheahan had actually instructed lawyers for INM to threaten defamation proceedings against Ms Harris.
However, Mr Sheahan was reminded during the tribunal that statements made at the tribunal are protected under privilege, which is itself protected in the constitution, as his paper’s majority shareholder recently discovered.
Mr Lehane asked Mr Sheahan:
“So you’re saying that Ms. Harris is abusing this Tribunal, established at great cost to the taxpayer, to ventilate a private grudge against you?“
Mr Sheahan responded:
“Yeah, I’m basically saying that. I also think she is quite confused, because she can’t actually specify when exactly she claims these comments were made…”
Ms Harris said she bore no ill will or grudge toward Mr Sheahan and admired, in particular, his political journalism.
Asked why she couldn’t specify a date when the alleged remark was made, Ms Harris said she believed it was late September, 2014 and could only “date it to my recollection of matters associated with it”.
In this way she recalled a moment involving Mr Sheahan prior to the alleged remark.
Ms Harris said:
“It might sound ephemeral and inconsequential to the Tribunal, Chairman, but I’ll mention it because it is an associative thing for me as I said.
A measure of how well I got on with Fionnan Sheahan at that time was, he had an idea for a feature.
Now, features were nowhere near his interests, but he’d suggested a feature on men marrying up, and he said it’s a new phenomenon, men marrying up, George Clooney has married up, Amal, she’s a great kind of catch for George Clooney.”
Allowing for rare levity in a grim module, Justice Charelton intervened.
Charleton: “Do you mean men marrying women who are much more intelligent than they are?”
Harris: “…Exactly, that is the point he was making, you’ve got it, Chairman.”
Charleton:“I did that.”
Ms Prone, for her part, has fared better than most out of this scandal.
In September 2015, her company The Communications Clinic secured the media training contract for all senior gardai.
Between June and November 2016 alone, it was paid €92,955 for this service.
A Garda spokesman said:
“Media training programme for senior officers and managers enables An Garda Síochána to provide more spokespeople to the media in order to keep the public informed about how An Garda Síochána prevents and tackles crime.”
He added that 100 officers had availed of the training.
Tomorrow: Maurice McCabe And Associated Newspapers Ireland
Yesterday: Maurice McCabe And INM: Part 1