Opposition criticises failure of department to locate emails for tribunal

Alan Kelly: No meaningful explanation for failure to search emails of Policing Division

The failure by the Department of Justice to locate dozens of emails requested by the Charleton Tribunal has been criticised by the Opposition.

A Government-commissioned report by senior counsel Michael Collins, published this week, identified serious shortcomings in the department’s storage and retrieval system for emails, as well as the manner in which it conducted the trawl for the tribunal.

The Collins report came on foot of revelations last November of the existence of emails from May 2015 which alerted then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald of the assertive strategy being taken by lawyers for the then Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan towards whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the earlier O’Higgins Tribunal. Ms Fitzgerald had always insisted she only learned of that strategy in 2016.

The controversy led to Ms Fitzgerald’s resignation as tánaiste and minister, and also prompted the Government to commission Mr Collins to examine the department’s practice and procedures when asked to discover documents and emails.


Labour TD Alan Kelly, who has campaigned on this issue, said on Wednesday that the department had failed to give a meaningful explanation for the failure to search emails of the Policing Division.

“That a department has no clear system in place for the filing and storage of emails is extraordinary, and raises questions about how, for example, Freedom of Information requests are dealt with.”

The Department of Justice has a very clear policy of using only official email accounts for departmental business

Mr Kelly said there were evidence of personal email accounts being used for sensitive public business in the policing and security fields, and said on Wednesday the inquiry should have included those email.


Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said: “The department’s clear failure to [search individual accounts] in the Policing Division or the secretary general’s account is poor practice, and resulted in documents relevant to the tribunal’s inquiries being overlooked.

“In this day and age the wide and accessible use of email as a means of communication, particularly within a workplace, means it is astonishing that the department’s trawl of documents did not include these email accounts.”

Social Democrats leader Róisín Shortall asked if the department was so lax in dealing with the tribunal how could it be trusted to handle other serious issues?

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan took issue with Mr Kelly’s assertion about private emails, saying there was never any suggestion that private accounts were used.

“The Department of Justice has a very clear policy of using only official email accounts for departmental business, and in that regard over 30 million official business email accounts were searched in the course of the trawl for emails pertaining this issue,” he said.

Mr Collins found there was no attempt to conceal or mislead the tribunal, rather placing the blame on poor systems and inadequate searches.

He found that a potential source of relevant material which was not included in the search carried out for the tribunal was the email accounts of individual department officials. He also said that emails stored in the Policing Division and in a group attached to office of the secretary general were also not searched.

Relevant material

“The reason why email in-boxes were not included as a potential source of relevant material at this time is unclear. It is important, however, to record that this review has identified no evidence that the department, or individuals within the department, deliberately excluded or sought to exclude potentially relevant sources of information for the purpose of omitting or concealing relevant documents.

“Rather it appears that the possibility of searching email in-boxes at this time simply did not occur to the relevant personnel.”

Mr Collins also noted there was no particular system in place in the department to ensure that emails were filed appropriately.

He said a search by external IT consultants in early January searched 30 million emails within justice, and found an additional 77documents of relevance to the tribunal.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times