Sunday 18 August 2019

Frances Fitzgerald 'noted' email at centre of controversy when she received it, new documents reveal

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald “noted” the email at the centre of the controversy threatening to bring down the Government when she received it in 2015.

New documents released by the Department of Justice tonight also reveal that Ms Fitzgerald was alerted to a press query about the Garda legal strategy at the O’Higgins Commission.

Officials in the department have been conducting a search for emails that may be relevant to the Charleton Tribunal which is investigating allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Despite the new revelations, sources say Ms Fitzgerald remains defiant and will not be tendering her resignation.

She tweeted tonight: "As Justice Minister I could not interfere with the O'Higgins Commission.

"This is confirmed  twice in today's documents & has been confirmed by the AG (Attorney General).

"The Tribunal will objectively judge the appropriateness of my conduct. I look forward to giving my evidence to the Tribunal early in January."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin  are due to meet tonight in a bid to find a compromise that will save the country from a general election in the days before Christmas.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar confirmed to Independent.ie that he still has confidence in the Tanaiste.

Two email threads were publicly released by the Department of Justice tonight.

The first is an unredacted version of the email in which Ms Fitzgerald is alerted to a dispute between lawyers for ex-Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission in May 2015.

Ms Fitzgerald has said that while she probably read the email she cannot remember it.

However, the documents released tonight the Minister’s private secretary tells another senior justice officials: “The Minister has noted the below.”

A separate email from July 4, 2015 now also shows that Ms Fitzgerald was made aware of press queries from RTÉ which suggested Sgt McCabe “was looking to be taken out of the traffic unit in Mullingar”.

It also questions whether the Garda Commissioner had instructed her counsel “to adopt an aggressive stance towards Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission”.

A briefing note by the Deputy Secretary General in Justice for Ms Fitzgerald states: “I understand that some weeks ago Sgt McCabe indicated to his authorities in Mullingar that he no longer wanted to stay in his post in the Traffic Unit.

“Apparently he blamed the Commissioner for this though he said he could not be more specific as he was bound by confidentiality.

“This coincided with hearings at the O’Higgins Commission (these hearings are being held in private and there is a prohibition on disclosing evidence given at them).

“Sgt McCabe remains in his post at the traffic unit, though, in practice, his time recently has been taken up giving evidence to the Commission.”

The official advises Ms Fitzgerald that it is a matter of public record that at various times Sgt McCabe has raised “various concerns” regarding his position in the Force.

The justice official suggests a reply that the Minister could make in which she would say that she must  conscious that Sgt McCabe “no more and no less than any service member of the Force, is entitled to confidentiality in his dealings with the Garda authorities”.

“So it would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly in any way on those dealings.”

The proposed response continues: “In particular, I think it would be very unfair to Sgt McCabe for me to do so.”

In another email the minister is briefed on the response of Garda Commission Noirin O’Sullivan to the same query.

On that occasion the Deputy Secretary advised Ms Fitzgerald “it would be completely inappropriate for you to comment in any way on the workings of the Commission”.

There is no evidence of Ms Fitzgerald having replied to any of the emails directly.

Online Editors

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