The Disclosures Tribunal has opened and will hear from just one witness before adjourning until Friday due to large volumes of material that have yet to be analysed.
In the first module in Summer 2017, the tribunal looked at claims that allegations of sexual abuse were used as part of a campaign to smear and undermine the reputation of garda whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe.
In the first hearings of 2018, the tribunal will examine whether former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan sought to undermine Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
In particular, the tribunal will look at the instructions Ms O’Sullivan gave her lawyers on how to treat Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
The tribunal heard today (Monday) of this week that the discovery and disclosure process had “resulted in the accumulation of a very substantial number of boxes of material”, consisting of over 30 boxes of papers in addition to tranches of electronic documents, and five new boxes of material had been delivered to the tribunal last Friday, January 5.
Tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, said that the tribunal was receiving statements “from people who perhaps ought to have known last February these things were called for”.
As a result of the volume of material requiring analysis, the tribunal heard only one witness today, retired civil servant Cyril Dunne.
Mr Justice Charleton also said he wants to receive submissions on the first module into false claims of sexual abuse against Sgt McCabe, as well as submissions once it completes the module that began today.
He said that it was six months since he had heard evidence on the first module and he wanted to be in a position to issue an interim report at any time.
The judge said that it was not reasonable to expect him to hold the details of the evidence in the module in his mind indefinitely.
Mr Charleton said that he was not taking “no” for an answer, and if he did not receive submissions on the module, then he would take it that the parties had no submissions to make.
Tribunal barrister, Kathleen Leader BL, began the day’s proceedings reading an opening statement into the record, outlining the purpose of the O’Higgins Commission.
The Commission examined the Garda response to several cases, including the loss of a computer seized during investigation into a priest accused of sexual abuse, and a serious assault on a taxi driver.
An extended extract from the audio recording of the second day of the O’Higgins Commission was played, in which barrister Colm Smyth SC said that his instructions from the Garda Commissioner were to attack Sgt McCabe’s credibility and integrity.
On the recording, barrister Michael McDowell SC complained his client Sgt McCabe was facing “elliptical criticisms” from the Garda Commissioner’s legal team.
Mr McDowell said this was “a childish and unworthy line of examination of witnesses”.
“I am shocked that it is coming from the counsel instructed by the Commissioner,” Mr McDowell said.
He sad it was “astonishing” that the Commissioner was questioning the motivations and credibility of Sgt McCabe, and “deeply wrong” that a witness would be used.
Mr McDowell said he wanted barrister Colm Smyth SC to confirm that he was instructed “by nobody else but the commissioner” to question Sgt McCabe’s credibility or motives.
“My instructions are to challenge the integrity certainly,” Mr Smyth told the commission; “his motivation and his credibility in mounting these allegations of corruption and malpractice.”
“Those are your instructions from the Commissioner?” Mr O’Higgins asked the barrister for the Garda Commissioner.
“Those are my instructions,” Mr Smyth said.
“This isn’t something that I am pulling out of the sky, judge,” Mr Smyth said. “And, I mean I can only act on instructions.”
Later, having risen to receive further instructions, Mr Smyth told the commission “my instructions are reconfirmed”.
Ms Leader said it seemed that the Garda Commissioner’s position was that Sgt McCabe was upset that the letter from the DPP vindicating him of sexual abuse allegations was blocked from circulation by senior garda officers.
The Tribunal will resume hearings this Friday, January 12.