Friday 18 January 2019

Ministerial special adviser felt 'uncomfortable' receiving email about Higgins Commission hearings, tribunal hears

Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gerard Cunningham

A special advisor to the Minister for Justice said he felt "uncomfortable" to receive an email about the hearings at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation in May 2015, shortly after it began hearing evidence in relation to complaints by garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

William Lavelle, a special advisor to former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, said that early in Ms Fitzgerald's time as minister, they agreed that she would not comment on what was happening at the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation except to say that the minister awaited the report of the commission.

The Charleton tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to discredit whistleblower Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

The commission, which sat in private in 2015, investigated complaints made by Sgt McCabe about certain policing matters and about serious allegations against senior officers including then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

Mr Lavelle said that issues relating to Sgt McCabe would not necessarily have crossed his desk, and many of the issues would have been dealt with by officials, or by his colleague Marion Mannion.

An email containing details from the commission, which referred to "serious criminal complaint" against Sgt McCabe, was forwarded to Mr Lavelle on 15 May 2015.

Mr Lavelle said this was the first time he had seen an email in relation to the O'Higgins Commission, and the first time he ever heard of a criminal complaint against Sgt McCabe. In 2006 the DPP had directed no prosecution saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Sgt McCabe following a garda investigation.

"I think first I was surprised to receive the email, I felt it was inappropriate," Mr Lavelle said.

Mr Lavelle said that the email was "for information only", and he was not sure why the minister "was being brought into this."

"Commissions of Investigation statutorily are independent of the minister. I felt uncomfortable that we were now being briefed in relation to a Commission of Investigation in which we had no role," Mr Lavelle said.

Mr Lavelle said there was "a vast amount of documentation" flowing from the department, and "an information note unless it was marked urgent would not be top of the pile. A note that said no action required would not be top of the pile.

Mr Lavelle said he did not think it appropriate to discuss what was before the commission, and when the minister did not raise the matter with him, he did not follow up proactively.

"It was very clear from the email there was no follow-up required and that as a view I concurred with," Mr Lavelle said.

Denis Griffin, a higher executive officer and private secretary to the Department of Justice acting secretary general Noel Waters in 2015, said that he forwarded the email to Mr Waters when he saw it.

Anything about Sgt McCabe at that stage would be brought to his attention," Mr Griffin told the tribunal.

The former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is scheduled to give evidence before the tribunal tomorrow and Sgt McCabe is due to appear on Friday. The tribunal expects to complete the current module by the end of next week, and will then hear closing submissions.

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