The chairman of the Disclosures Tribunal has said he is not referring any journalist to the High Court as it would be absolutely futile.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton said he was completely convinced that any referral would not elicit any further information from some journalists who have invoked privilege and refused to answer questions revealing discussions with some sources.

The inquiry heard legal submissions today on the question of whether journalistic privilege properly applies at the tribunal in a situation where several individuals have waived their right to privilege on conversations.

Mr Charleton said he would not make a ruling on privilege until he heard final submissions on the evidence of this section of the tribunal.

The tribunal is examining an allegation by the former Garda Press Officer, Superintendent David Taylor, that he was directed by former garda commissioner Martin Callinan to brief journalists negatively about whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Supt Taylor has also alleged this was done with the knowledge of former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

Both Ms O'Sullivan and Mr Callinan have denied the allegations.  All three have waived privilege on any discussions with journalists.

Supt Taylor has named 12 journalists he says he briefed negatively about Sgt McCabe. None have supported his account, eight have denied it and four have claimed privilege.

Mr Charleton said the tribunal had come to the end of all evidence it had been able to gather and he said it did not seem likely that there was going to be any breakthrough at this point.

He said the inquiry had attempted to roll a very large stone up a very large mountain like Croagh Patrick and the tribunal had done its best and what was done was reasonable.

The inquiry heard consideration will be given on whether further witnesses need to be called, and if not, closing submissions will be heard next week.

Lawyers for Sgt McCabe submitted that the question at issue was whether Supt Taylor discussed the sergeant off the record with journalists.

Michael McDowell said journalists did not have any stateable case on privilege which would justify such a refusal. He said the question did not expose journalists to revealing other sources.

Mr McDowell suggested that if there was no privilege, the tribunal was entitled or even bound to draw inferences that there was such discussions.

However, he said he was not asking the tribunal to refer any witnesses to the High Court as it would delay the inquiry with a lengthy and futile discussion.

Supt Taylor's lawyer said journalists were adopting an absolutist approach to privilege. 

Counsel for Supt Taylor, John Ferry, said this was unfair to Supt Taylor because he was entitled to have corroboration of his version of events if he was telling the truth.

He submitted that journalistic privilege did not apply, the tribunal should draw the inference that Supt Taylor's account was correct and if it did not do that, then journalists who refused to answer questions, should be referred to the High Court.

Lawyers for the Garda Commissioners said there was no basis on which the tribunal should draw inferences from journalist's refusal to answer questions. 

John Fitzgerald said Supt Taylor was the only direct source for the allegations and his account was utterly void of supporting evidence and he offered nothing by way of date or context.

Mr Fitzgerald also said that no order was required to send journalists to the High Court in respect of refusing to answer questions.

Lawyers for INM and RTÉ submitted that their journalists had not declined to answer questions so the issue did not apply. Mr Justice Charleton said he agreed.

Lawyers for the Irish Examiner said its three journalists had appropriately invoked their lawful entitlement to privilege even where an alleged source had waived his rights. 

Shane English said there was a significant public interest in maintaining journalistic privilege and he said any attempt to compel them would risk their livelihood.

Tribunal hears journalist heard rumour about McCabe

The former security editor of the Irish Independent has disputed evidence at the tribunal that he told another journalist that Sgt McCabe was under investigation for child abuse.

Tom Brady was questioned about a claim made by journalist Professor Colum Kenny that Mr Brady was one of two journalists he spoke to at a Dáil committee hearing in 2014.

Prof Kenny said the conversation took place at a hearing of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on penalty points on 19 February 2014.

Mr Brady said he was not at the committee hearing on that date as he was covering a murder that day.

He said he had heard a rumour in 2013, probably from a journalist, about Sgt McCabe and an allegation of child sexual assault.

Mr Brady said he had checked it out and found out it had been investigated and that the DPP directed no prosecution.

Mr Justice Charleton said the direct conflict was the fifth journalistic conflict at the tribunal.

Former deputy head of news with the Irish Sun, Fergus O'Shea, told the inquiry that a reporter, Eavan Murray, came to him in 2014 with a possible story about Sgt McCabe.

It concerned a historical abuse allegation against the sergeant.

Mr O'Shea said he did not remember sending her to Cavan to try to get an interview with the complainant. Ms Murray visited the house but did not get an interview.

Mr O'Shea disputed the evidence given by Ms Murray that he gave her the assignment and that he told her the Irish Independent was planning a big exclusive on the story.

He said he did not remember sending her and he said he definitely did not hear that the Irish Independent was also chasing the story.

He said that could have come from someone else in the newsroom.