Sunday 25 August 2019

Everything we know about the email at the centre of the crisis

Tanáiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tanáiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Damien Eagers Newsdesk Newsdesk

It all began when details of an email received by Frances Fitzgerald in 2015 which sparked questions about what she knew about a legal strategy to smear Maurice McCabe. Here is everything we know about the email.

What did it say?

The full email with names redacted was released to the Dáil on Tuesday by Frances FItzgerald.

The email reads as follows:

"Can you pass this on to the Minister for information please.

"I took a call this afternoon from ---- in relation to the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation (which is investigating the matters identified by the Guerin report).

"The O'Higgins Commission has started hearings, and the Garda Siochana are represented by counsel, as is Sergeant McCabe (in his case, Michael McDowell SC).

"---- wanted to let me know that counsel for the Garda Siochana has raised as an issue in the hearings an allegation made against Sergeant McCabe which was one of the cases examined by the IRM. The allegation had been that a serious criminal complaint again Sergeant McCabe (which he has always denied) had not been properly investigated by the Garda Siochana. The IRM found that an investigation file on the case had in fact been submitted to the DPP, who had directed no prosecution, and the IRM, which because of the seriousness of the allegation had been considering whether to recommend its inclusion in the O'Higgins terms of reference, in the end recommended no further action by the Minister.

"Presumably the Garda Siochana are raising the matter on the basis, they could argue (and Sergeant McCabe would deny), that it is potentially relevant to motivation. --- advised me that counsel for Sergeant McCabe objected to this issue being raised, and asked whether the Garda Commissioner had authorised this approach. -- also told me that the Garda Commissioner's authorisation had been confirmed (although I understand separately that this may be subject to any further legal advice).

"-- and I agreed that this is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, who is being legally advised, and that neither the Attorney nor the Minister has a function relating to the evidence a party to a Commission of Investigation may adduce."

Why has it only come to light in recent days?

Officials at the Department of Justice only alerted the embattled minister to the existence of the correspondence after she made a phone call seeking an update on questions being submitted by Labour TD Alan Kelly.

The email was found during a trawl of Ms Fitzgerald's old email account on November 9, but she wasn't told until last Thursday, November 16.

Why is it significant?

Fianna Fail and opposition TDs have said the email was a "red flag" which raised concerns about the "aggressive tactics" of the legal team acting on behalf of An Garda Siochana toward Sg McCabe and Ms Fitzgerald has been criticised for not acting on it. However, she has said the email did not signal a wider strategy and that for her to intervene at any stage would have been illegal.

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