Wednesday 21 February 2018

Fitzgerald suppressed damning report into Justice Dept

Shatter says department officials 'stymied' his whistleblower probe

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Philip Ryan and John Drennan

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has sat on a controversial review of the Department of Justice, which is critical of secretary general Brian Purcell's handling of the garda scandals, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

As the garda scandals continue to damage the Coalition, it has emerged former justice minister Alan Shatter says he was "stymied" by civil servants when he tried to address Sergeant Maurice McCabe's allegations of garda corruption.

In a letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny soon after his resignation, Mr Shatter claims department officials failed to give him legal advice from the Attorney General's office which warned against establishing a Commission of Inquiry.

Ms Fitzgerald is understood to be under pressure within Government to deal promptly with the organisational issues in her department to avoid the controversy continuing to fester.

On taking over as Justice Minister, Ms Fitzgerald set up an urgent review of the operations of her new department in the wake of the garda controversies, which caused the resignations of Mr Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Ms Fitzgerald refused to express confidence in Mr Purcell, as she was reserving her judgement pending the outcome of an independent review of her department.

The Sunday Independent has learned the review was completed two weeks ago and the report was given to the minister. But Ms Fitzgerald has failed to bring the report to Cabinet, publish it, or even confirm she has received it.

"The minister will be publishing the report shortly and has no comment to make at this time," a spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said.

Sources close to the review confirmed the report is critical of both Mr Purcell and his second-in-command, Department of Justice assistant secretary Michael Flahive.

The outcome of the review will heap pressure on Ms Fitzgerald to address Mr Purcell's role in the garda scandals.

The Taoiseach sent Mr Purcell to Mr Callinan's home the night before he resigned, but the secretary general has so far refused to say what he said to the former commissioner.

Mr Purcell also faced criticism for not providing Mr Shatter with a vital letter from the former commissioner detailing the serious legal implications arising from the secret recording of telephone calls in garda stations.

Ms Fitzgerald announced the review in early May and gave the independent group of experts a strict deadline of July 11 to report back. The review examined document management and organisational structures.

Those involved in the external review of the Department of Justice are believed to be "very surprised" Ms Fitzgerald has not published the report.

"I was assuming the tight deadline was to get it out of the way before Cabinet would break up," a well-placed source said.

"She is going to have to make a judgement call on it and she said she was going to wait until the review finished to say if she had confidence in him, so that's an issue for her," the source added.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent has seen a letter sent by Mr Shatter to the Taoiseach two weeks after he was forced to resign, in which he claims Department of Justice officials did not fully brief him on legal advice concerning Sgt McCabe's claims of garda negligence.

Mr Shatter stepped down the day before barrister Sean Guerin's report on Sgt McCabe's allegations was published.

Mr Guerin's report is highly critical of Mr Shatter and the Department of Justice over the handling of the controversy and recommended a Commission of Inquiry be established to address Sgt McCabe's allegations.

Mr Shatter resigned on May 7. In his letter to the Taoiseach of May 22, Mr Shatter said he was concerned there was a "gridlock in correspondence" between his department and Sgt McCabe's solicitors.

"Based on the oral advice I was receiving from officials, I was stymied in taking the necessary steps to get to the root of the allegations made," he wrote.

Mr Shatter claims he asked his officials to get legal advice from the Attorney General's (AG) office on Sgt McCabe's claim that serious crimes, including murder and sexual assaults, were not properly investigated.

The AG wrote back to the department in December 2013 but Mr Shatter claims he was not given the advice while he was in office.

In fact, Mr Shatter claims he only learned of the AG's response when he read the Guerin Report in May.

"Unfortunately, for reasons I do not understand, despite my asking that advices be obtained, I was never informed by justice officials of receipt of the letter," he said.

Mr Purcell confirmed that Mr Shatter did not receive the letter when he appeared before the Oireachtas justice committee in May, after the minister's resignation.

Mr Shatter claims the Atorney General's letter, which he received a copy of after his resignation, advises against establishing a statutory inquiry to investigate Sgt McCabe's complaints.

The advice directly contradicts the outcome of Mr Guerin's report and Ms Fitzgerald's pledge to set up a Commission of Investigation to address Sgt McCabe's allegations.

Sunday Independent

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