Monday 16 December 2019

Fitzgerald was informed three times of issues at O'Higgins Commission

Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald arrives at the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald arrives at the Disclosures Tribunal at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald decided not to contact Nóirín O'Sullivan despite receiving indications on three occasions that there were issues with the former Garda commissioner's legal strategy at the O'Higgins Commission.

Prior to her resignation from the Cabinet last November, Ms Fitzgerald told the Seanad she only became aware of the broad details dealt with in the commission when they came into the public domain in May 2016.

But over two days at the Disclosures Tribunal, Ms Fitzgerald accepted she had received and read emails in May and July of 2015 alerting her about matters at the commission.

Two of the emails referred to a serious criminal allegation against Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe being raised at the commission.

Ms Fitzgerald told the tribunal yesterday she was aware the allegation, which Sgt McCabe had been cleared of, was not in the terms of reference of the commission.

But she insisted she did not discuss the emails with her officials or Ms O'Sullivan as it would have been inappropriate to interfere in an independent inquiry.

The tribunal heard she only sought reassurance from Ms O'Sullivan in relation to the legal strategy in May 2016 - after the O'Higgins report had been published.

Yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald was asked about three emails which were sent or prepared for her by three different officials at the Department of Justice.

The first, from assistant secretary Michael Flahive on May 15, 2015, told her a serious criminal allegation, which had been considered by an independent review mechanism, had been raised as an issue by counsel for the commissioner.

A second email, prepared for the minister's attention by principal officer Martin Power on May 27, said he thought the alleged sexual assault of a woman known as Ms D had been "referred to in a particular context" during initial hearings of the commission. Sgt McCabe was cleared of this allegation following a Garda investigation.

The third email, sent on July 4, 2015, by deputy secretary Ken O'Leary, alerted Ms Fitzgerald to a press query RTÉ's 'This Week' programme had submitted to the Garda press office.

Among other things, Mr O'Leary's email stated the programme understood counsel for the commissioner had raised questions over the motivation of Sgt McCabe for bringing alleged garda misconduct to attention.

Paul McGarry SC, for Sgt McCabe, asked Ms Fitzgerald if the emails from Mr Flahive and Mr Power had not raised concerns for her, given the Ms D allegation was not part of the commission's terms of reference. Ms Fitzgerald said she knew it was not part of the commission, but felt that whatever had been raised would have been dealt with by Mr Justice O'Higgins.

It was put to her that what Ms O'Sullivan was doing at the commission appeared at odds with how she had supported Sgt McCabe in public. Mr McGarry asked why she had not phoned the commissioner to ask what was going on. Ms Fitzgerald replied: "I think that would have been completely inappropriate."

In relation to the O'Leary email, Ms Fitzgerald said she didn't respond to it. She also said she didn't believe she spoke to Mr O'Leary about it and did not contact the commissioner either.

Meanwhile, the tribunal has deferred Sgt McCabe's appearance. He had been originally scheduled to give evidence today, but this is now expected to occur during its next module.

Irish Independent

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