FORMER Justice Minister Michael McDowell has been providing legal advice to garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe throughout his long-running battle with Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
But despite regularly guiding Sergeant McCabe on legal matters, the former Tanaiste this week said he was "not getting involved" when contacted by the Irish Independent.
It is unclear why Mr McDowell has refused to confirm his involvement in the controversy – but sources close to Sgt McCabe have confirmed that the barrister is in regular contact with the garda whistleblower.
It came as Justice Minister Alan Shatter launched a strong counter-attack to criticism of his role in the crisis, rejecting all allegations that he failed to properly handle complaints against the gardai. He also rejected allegations he misled the Dail in relation to Sgt McCabe.
The former Progressive Democrats leader is now the third Justice Minister to become embroiled in the controversy.
Sgt McCabe has a defamation case against the State, and a separate bullying and harassment action lodged against An Garda Siochana.
The officer's allegations of malpractice in the force – including the claim that thousands of penalty points were wrongly quashed by senior gardai – led to months of controversy for Mr Shatter.
The Irish Independent understands that throughout the affair Sgt McCabe has continually sought the guidance of Mr McDowell, who served as Justice Minister for five years under a previous Fianna Fail-led government.
It was also Mr McDowell who introduced the confidential recipient system, for gardai to report complaints anonymously, following the outcomes of the Morris Tribunal into corruption in the force.
Mr Shatter announced he was abolishing the system three weeks ago and dramatically sacked the office holder, Oliver Connolly, after he refused to deny he told Sgt McCabe that the Justice Minister would "go after" him.
In a secret recording of that conversation, Mr McDowell is referred to a number of times.
Sgt McCabe is heard telling Mr Shatter's garda confidante several times that he has been advised by Mr McDowell.
Mr Connolly also refers to Mr McDowell when he tells the garda to use his legal team to bring his complaints before the courts or face persecution from Mr Shatter.
He says: "I'll give you some advice, your solicitor and McDowell are now aware of it, if you can get them in the courts (they) will be only too happy to send you to mediation.
"And you go in there looking for the numbers, whatever else you want, you'll get it."
He adds: "I'll tell you something, this is just personal, if Shatter thinks you are screwing him, you are finished."
The Irish Independent also understands that Mr McDowell helped draft the statement that Sgt McCabe released to the media this week, in which he refuted suggestions that he did not co-operate with the garda inquiry into quashed penalty points.