By Michael Clifford and Cormac O’Keeffe
The email accounts of former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald and her political advisers were not examined in the recent trawl for documents relevant to the Charleton Tribunal.
The development comes as the Department of Justice was yesterday swayed at the Oireachtas Justice Committee into asking the Charleton Tribunal if it wanted the department to conduct a widespread trawl to unearth remaining paper documentation and to extend searches to include private emails and mobile phones.
A response by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats joint leader Roisin Shortall confirmed that the trawl last month of department emails revealing details of the former garda commissioner’s legal strategy against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe did not include Ms Fitzgerald’s accounts.
“While the email accounts of the then tánaiste and minister for justice and equality and her advisers were not specifically examined as part of the recent trawl for documents, I can confirm that the email accounts of officials working in relevant areas of the department were searched and that this exercise would, of course, encompass emails sent from or to the then minister and her advisers on any such matters,” the minister replied.
Ms Shortall said the latest information raises some disturbing questions.
“The first question is why on earth were the minister’s and the advisers’ emails not searched,” she said.
“We don’t know whether there was an email conversation between the minister and her advisers in relation to this.
“You can’t get the full answers to questions as to what she knew without knowing what happened between her and her advisers.”
The Government has announced that a senior counsel is to be appointed to investigate issues around the discovery of documents in the department to the Charleton Tribunal, which is investigating a smear campaign against Sergeant McCabe.
At the close of an intense three-hour appearance before the Oireachtas Justice Committee yesterday, acting secretary general of the Department of Justice, Oonagh McPhillips, said she would ask the tribunal did it want the department to conduct a full trawl of its documentation, as well as private emails and mobile phones that might relate to its investigation.
She took the step after a direct request from chairman Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin and after sustained pressure and criticism from deputies on a range of issues and specific calls for a full trawl.
Labour TD Alan Kelly — whose PQ revealed the first email last month — said the mobile phones and private emails of relevant civil servants should also be included in a full trawl.
Ms McPhillips rejected claims from Mr Kelly and suggestions from Fine Gael senator Martin Conway that the department willfully withheld documents.
Along with John O’Callaghan, assistant secretary general for policing division, Ms McPhillips insisted throughout the session that the department had “fully complied” with disclosure orders from the tribunal.
Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said this position was “incredible” given recent actions in the department, on foot of parliamentary questions and a Taoiseach-ordered trawl, had uncovered further documentation.
Ms McPhillips and Mr O’Callaghan said that if they had given the tribunal every document that made some sort of reference to people affected by the tribunal it would be “effectively dumping thousands and thousands of documents” on the inquiry, which they said would not be “helpful” to it.
Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said that should have been a “call” for Mr Justice Charleton.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.