Tánaiste knew of ex-Garda chief’s legal strategy, says department

Revelation contradicts statement by Leo Varadkar in Dáil

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was informed of former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s legal strategy in relation to whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe in May 2015, it has emerged, in contradiction of a statement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

It emerged last year that the legal team appointed by Ms O’Sullivan was instructed to question Sgt McCabe’s motivation and credibility at the O’Higgins Commission, which was set up to examine allegations of Garda malpractice.

Labour TD Alan Kelly last week questioned the contact between Ms O’Sullivan and the Department of Justice at the time the legal strategy was being implemented in May 2015.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil Ms Fitzgerald only became aware of the strategy when it became public in 2016.


However, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said on Monday that Ms Fitzgerald and the department knew of a “clash between the Garda and legal teams” but not the detail. He said she did not become aware of the specifics until May 2016.

Clarify the situation

Several attempts to clarify the situation further with the department were unsuccessful last night.

The revelations will place significant pressure on Mr Varadkar to correct the record of the Dáil and for Ms Fitzgerald to outline the depth of her knowledge.

Neither a spokesman for the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach was available for comment last night.

There were also reports last night of documentation being sent to the Department of the Taoiseach and Department of Justice about the matter.However, this could not be confirmed.

The strategy pursued against Sgt McCabe is being examined by the disclosures tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

During the deliberations of the O’Higgins Commission, the legal team appointed by the former commissioner confirmed their orders were to undermine Sgt McCabe’s credibility. However, this information only became public in late 2016. The Government has insisted it had no prior knowledge of the strategy adopted by An Garda Síochána.

However, Mr Kelly has questioned the level of contact between Ms O’Sullivan and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Noel Watters.

Addressing these issues last week, Mr Varadkar said: “I spoke to the Tánaiste who told me that she had no hand, act or part in this decision and that she was not aware of it until after the fact, around the time it entered the public domain.

“The Department of Justice and Equality has told me that it was not made aware of it until after the fact.”

Mr Kelly said the new information posed serious questions for the Government.