Tánaiste did not tell Taoiseach of email contents until Monday

Email set out legal strategy pursued against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe

 Sgt Maurice McCabe: The Tánaiste was advised a “serious criminal charge” was being levelled against him.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Sgt Maurice McCabe: The Tánaiste was advised a “serious criminal charge” was being levelled against him. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald did not inform Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of the contents of an email she received regarding the legal strategy pursued against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe until Monday night, a spokesman for the Taoiseach has confirmed.

Ms Fitzgerald received a briefing from the Department of Justice last Thursday outlining correspondence sent to her in May 2015.

It came from a department official advising her of a legal issue at the O’Higgins Commission, examining Garda malpractice claims by Sgt McCabe.

The email was written by a departmental official, who has not been named, based on a conversation they had with a person in the Attorney General’s office.

The Tánaiste was advised a “serious criminal charge” was being levelled against Sgt McCabe and advised her not to take any further action.

Ms Fitzgerald has said she did not recall getting that email but was briefed of its contents by the department last week.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar confirmed he first became aware of its contents on Monday night based on telephone calls with Ms Fitzgerald and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

Existence of email

However he declined to state who initiated the phone calls or comment on why Ms Fitzgerald did not inform the Taoiseach of the existence of the email.

Political opponents have called on Mr Varadkar to publish the contents of the email, but he is seeking legal advice before deciding.

Confusion has arisen over when Ms Fitzgerald, who is now Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, first knew of the strategy to attack the credibility of Sgt McCabe, who exposed widespread Garda malpractice and the quashing of penalty points by some members of the force.

It emerged last year that the legal team appointed by then Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was instructed to question Sgt McCabe’s motivation and credibility at the O’Higgins Commission, which was set up in February 2015 to examine allegations of Garda malpractice. The strategy pursued against Sgt McCabe is being examined by the disclosures tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

Mr Varadkar subsequently told the Dáil Ms Fitzgerald, who was minister for justice at the time, only became aware of the strategy when it became public in 2016.

Contradictory statement

However, on Monday this information was contradicted in a statement by the Department of Justice which said Ms Fitzgerald and the department knew of a “clash between the Garda and legal teams” in May 2015 but not the detail.

In a radio interview on Monday, the Tánaiste said she had no “hand, act or part” in the legal strategy and learned of it “post-event”.

She said: “I was not party to what was going on at the O’Higgins Commission – the O’Higgins Commission was private and as Minister I remember saying at the time when there was part [of the] information leaked, that I couldn’t comment on part information, when I didn’t have the full facts.

“What I said was that I would set up, and what I did, was set up the Charlton Tribunal which is now examining specifically that legal strategy but I didn’t know about that legal strategy.”