Saturday 17 November 2018

Justice officials on defensive over email criticism

Ms Fitzgerald insists she will be vindicated at the tribunal. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ms Fitzgerald insists she will be vindicated at the tribunal. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Department of Justice has come in for stinging criticism over the level of information it has sent to the Disclosures Tribunal which is examining the treatment of Garda whistleblowers.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee heard that there was no general trawl of emails when the tribunal first sought discovery of documents and that officials forwarded items they deemed relevant to the probe.

Justice officials were grilled just over a week after tánaiste and former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald's resignation.

She fell on her sword after the emergence of emails from 2015 showed she was informed about the legal strategy being pursued by Garda management against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the previous O'Higgins Commission.

Ms Fitzgerald insists she will be vindicated at the tribunal.

Acting Department of Justice secretary general Oonagh McPhillips told the committee that all three discovery orders made by the tribunal have been fully complied with. She said the email chains that sparked the recent controversy have also been forwarded to Mr Justice Charleton's probe.

The department official responsible for policing, John O'Callaghan, said the emails hadn't been found at the time when the discovery orders had been made earlier this year.

He said the staff involved in dealing with the discovery orders were "fully au fait with all of the issues" and knew the relevant documents that were available.

Under questioning by Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers, Mr O'Callaghan confirmed that there had been no widespread electronic trawl of documents of the kind seen in recent weeks to see if there were emails that might be relevant.

Ms McPhillips said there are many thousands of documents that mention the people involved in the whistleblower issue and she didn't believe sending all of them to the tribunal would be of assistance.

Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said he was "flabbergasted" that the department would argue that "an overload of information to the tribunal would be inappropriate".

Labour TD Alan Kelly claimed the department "effectively… didn't provide the information because it wasn't asked for it", saying he found this "very alarming".

Ms McPhillips repeatedly insisted there was "no withholding" of any information.

Irish Independent

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