Friday 23 August 2019

Justice officials didn't alert Tánaiste to McCabe email for an entire week

Taoiseach wasn't told of message when taking Dáil questions

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was accused of misleading the Dáil Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was accused of misleading the Dáil Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald wasn't told about an email at the centre of the latest justice crisis until a full week after it was discovered, the Irish Independent has learned.

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.

In the interim, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was allowed to twice face Opposition questions about what the depth of knowledge within the department was about the legal strategy being adopted by gardaí at the O'Higgins inquiry.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency

Read more: Fresh criticism for Frances Fitzgerald as Varadkar again corrects the Dail record

And the Irish Independent understands Mr Varadkar is poised to cancel a historic trip to Africa in order to save the political career of his Tánaiste.

He was due to travel to Mali and the Ivory Coast on Monday. The trip involved a visit to Irish troops in the Mali capital of Bamako followed by an EU-Africa summit in the Ivory Coast.

Senior government sources last night said the trip was hanging in the balance if there was a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile a source told the Irish Independent that the email wasn't shown to Ms Fitzgerald until a week after it was discovered.

"A decision was taken to get legal advice on the email and whether it was relevant to Charleton [Tribunal] before the minister was told about it," they added.

It is not clear when current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was briefed, but sources said it was "at some point last week".

The development raises serious questions for management in the Department of Justice, who left the Taoiseach "blindsided".

Ms Fitzgerald faces a further grilling over the controversy in the Dáil at midday today.

Read more: Frances Fitzgerald launches stern defence of her record as justice minister

Last night Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin pulled back from attempting to force her from office. Both parties decided to allow more "time and space" for the Tánaiste to answer outstanding questions about her handling of the incident.

And sources close to Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe say he is still awaiting clarification from Mr Varadkar on the content of the email before deciding what his next move will be. He is understood to be shocked that it has taken two years for the email in question to emerge.

The email, sent for Ms Fitzgerald's attention when she was justice minister in 2015, shows lawyers for then-Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan were going to raise Mr McCabe's claim that a serious allegation against him was not properly investigated when, in fact, a file was sent to the DPP who directed no prosecution.

Read more: McCabe awaiting clarification on email to Tanaiste as controversy continues

The O'Higgins inquiry was probing allegations made by Sgt McCabe about Garda misconduct in the Cavan/Monaghan district. Sources close to Sgt McCabe insist the transcripts show that no such claim was made at the commission. He is therefore shocked and dissatisfied as to how the claim appeared in the email.

In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he had confidence in his deputy, but took aim at the Department of Justice for giving him misleading information.

"I am not satisfied with the fact that on a number of occasions - at least two in the past week - I have been given incomplete information from the Department of Justice and Equality," he said. "My role is to account for the Government to the House and it is not something I like to see happen."

A full trawl of documentation in the department is continuing, but sources said nothing of new significance had been discovered to date.

Mr Varadkar has now also asked for a progress report on the implementations of the recommendations made in the Toland review, which was heavily critical of the culture in the Department of Justice in 2014.

Irish Independent

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