RTÉ has learned that the former garda commissioner Martin Callinan confirmed to a judge-led review that he did meet TD John McGuinness, days before whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe appeared before the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee in 2014.

However, according to confidential correspondence seen by RTÉ's This Week programme, Mr Callinan has rejected accounts of the meeting contained in two protected disclosures.

Fianna Fáil TD Mr McGuinness told the Dáil that the former garda boss suggested Sgt McCabe was not to be trusted, when they met in a hotel car park.

Documents reveal Mr Callinan told Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill that "there are a variety of descriptions of what occurred at that meeting, none of which are correct".

It is the first time Mr Callinan's view on the controversial meeting has emerged, and while he disputes accounts of what was discussed he confirms that the meeting did occur.

Judge O'Neill was appointed last year to review claims of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, arising from which he wrote to Mr Callinan asking him to comment on the claims contained in two protected disclosures made by Sgt McCabe and by the former head of the garda press office, David Taylor.

However, Mr Callinan declined to engage with the judge on the specifics of the allegations made about a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, the letters show.

According to the correspondence, Mr Callinan said he could not address the allegations because he had been advised that they lacked sufficient specifics, and that he had neither the time nor the resources to address them in the time allowed as part of the O'Neill review.

In a series of letters back and forth between Mr Callinan and Judge O'Neill, Mr Callinan said that some of the matters in which he was involved at that time had been "fundamentally distorted".

Judge O'Neill was appointed by the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last October to examine claims in the two separate protected disclosures as well as the contents of two Section 41 reports authored by a senior garda administrator.

The protected disclosures alleged that a wide-ranging smear campaign was being operated by senior members of the force to discredit and undermine Sgt McCabe, while he was attempting to raise issues over governance and policing standards.

Those allegations of a smear campaign will be examined as part of the upcoming Charleton Inquiry. The inquiry chair, Mr Peter Charleton, will deliver his opening statement tomorrow morning at Dublin Castle.

Sergeant Maurice McCabe

The full correspondence between Mr Callinan and Judge O'Neill, over several weeks in October-November 2016, contains three letters from each man, including replies and counter-replies, in which Judge O'Neill was seeking Mr Callinan's response to the claims.

In the first letter, the judge writes to Mr Callinan and he notes that the two protected disclosures contain "very serious allegations" against him.

Mr Callinan confirms in the letter that the meeting did take place but appears to raise a question about how it is described in the protected disclosures.

He asks Mr Callinan to respond to those allegations. The judge told Mr Callinan that the time given to him to complete this task was "very short".

Mr Callinan wrote back on 28 October. In that letter he said he was prepared to cooperate with the process being undertaken by the judge but he had reservations about the detail he was being asked to comment on, and the amount of time allowed.

"I am prepared to cooperate fully in the process being undertaken by you but having regard to the manner in which, and the extent to which events in which I was involved have been fundamentally distorted, I wish to ensure that I am not prejudiced in any way by my cooperation," Mr Callanan's letter states.

"You mention very serious allegations to which you wish me to respond. Both of the protected disclosures and the Section 41 reports contain many vague descriptions of events based on hearsay and indeed hearsay upon hearsay.

“In addition in material instances dates and times are not specified," Mr Callinan's letter continues.

In the letter he singles out the meeting with Mr McGuinness, who told the Dáil last year that he met with Mr Callinan in January 2014 where, Mr McGuinness claims that Mr Callinan made negative comments about Mr McCabe. This is the so-called car park meeting.

Mr Callinan confirms in the letter that the meeting did take place but appears to raise a question about how it is described in the protected disclosures.

"You might kindly set out precisely the allegations to which you wish me to respond. An example of why this is necessary can be ascertained from an examination of the various descriptions of my meeting with Deputy John McGuinness on 24 January 2014. There are a variety of descriptions of what occurred at that meeting, none of which are correct".

He went on to inform Judge O'Neill that the time given to him to respond made the task not possible. He told the Judge there were a number of people to whom he would need to speak and that he could not do that in the time given, which was by early the following month, November 2016.

"These allegations as set out in the four documents, are in my opinion capable of being addressed by you and responded by indicating whether you deny all of them or whether you do not dispute some of them" - Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill 

He goes on to say in the letter that "in not dealing at this stage with any of the matters raised in the material furnished to me, I should not be taken as agreeing with any statement of fact or opinion contained therein".

Judge O'Neill wrote back within days of Mr Callinan's initial letter and said he was not attempting to establish any findings of fact.

Instead, he wanted to know what was disputed or not, in terms of the claims made in the protected disclosure, so he can then make recommendations on what might benefit from further investigation. 

"These allegations as set out in the four documents, are in my opinion capable of being addressed by you and responded by indicating whether you deny all of them or whether you do not dispute some of them.

“That is all that is required of you at this stage. If I am unable in this review, to ascertain from you where you stand, I will simply have to assume a blanked denial on your part of all the allegations and to proceed to make recommendations accordingly."

Following the Judge's second letter, Mr Callinan wrote back again - this time a single page - in which he described the protected disclosures and accompanying material as voluminous.

The Judge responded by saying that the Section 41 reports contained 21 pages and the protected disclosures contained 11 pages, and he did not accept they could be considered voluminous.

"I confirm that in so far as is possible, given the limited detail that the allegations are denied" - former garda commissioner Martin Callinan

Mr Callinan told the judge that while he was prepared to cooperate with the review, that he has been advised that he should not enter into any process until such time as the allegations are set out in appropriate detail, and that he was given what he said was a reasonable amount of time and facilities to conduct the necessary enquiries to enable him to deal with them.

In early November, Judge O'Neill wrote once again to Mr Callinan, saying that this was the final time he would be writing to Mr Callinan and he asked him to reconsider his stance.

Following this, there was one final letter from Mr Callinan to Judge O'Neill, in which the former garda commissioner maintained the position that he will not get into the specifics raised in the protected disclosures or the Section 41 reports.

“He said he was advised that he had a right to have those allegations fully set out and to have a reasonable opportunity and facilities to enable him to rebut them.

However, Mr Callinan went on to say that "notwithstanding the foregoing, and in light of your clear desire for me to take a position on the allegations, I confirm that in so far as is possible, given the limited detail that the allegations are denied".