Latest: Tánaiste 'was not informed of call between Garda Commissioner and Department'

Update 6pm: It has been stated this evening that Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was not informed of a phone call between Nóirín O’Sullivan and the Department of Justice over the adversarial legal strategy towards Maurice McCabe at the the O’Higgins Tribunal.

A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald has said that the Tánaiste was not aware of the phone conversation between the then Garda Commissioner and a senior official from the Department.

Outgoing Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams says revelations about the former Garda Commissioner's call to the Department of Justice at the time of Sergeant McCabe's cross-examination, raises even more questions.

"First of all, why did the former Garda Commissioner call the Justice Department? who did she speak to?" he said.

"I presume it was a very senior person - what's the name of that official? Is there a written record of the call?

"And that just raises more and more questions - was this information disclosed to the Charleston discovery process?"

Update 1.40pm: Ex-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan personally told a senior official at the Department of Justice about the legal strategy to challenge the motivation of garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe in 2015, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.

The revelation comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attempts to stave off a snap General Election amid calls for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to resign.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that a wider trawl of documents relating to the McCabe email saga has produced confirmation of a phone call from Ms O'Sullivan to an unnamed official which occurred “at the time” Sgt McCabe was being cross-examined.

Nóirín O'Sullivan; Maurice McCabe

The Department of Justice has confirmed that the contact took place.

The department has said the conversation occurred "at the time" of the legal dispute in the Tribunal, but said they had no written record or otherwise and could say no more due to the upcoming Disclosures Tribunal.

The revelation has been brought to light by RTÉ's This Week programme.

Confirmation of the email is the second confirmed notification that the department was told about aspects of the controversial legal strategy before it became public the following year.

Ms Fitzgerald has maintained that she only first heard of the strategy to undermine Sgt McCabe when transcripts were published by Mick Clifford in the Irish Examiner a year later in May 2016.

The Department has declined to answer was whether the former senior official or anyone else briefed the Minister on the content of the call from the Commissioner, and if not, why not?

According to RTÉ, a security source revealed that a conversation between the former Commissioner occurred with someone of considerable influence within the Department.

The source indicated that while a record of the call may not exist in the Department, it may exist in the force.

The Department responded last night to confirm that they had now discovered evidence that the Garda Commissioner did discuss the matter with the Department.

A spokesman said: "in the interests of clarity, we can state that in the course of our wider trawl for records in recent days we contacted a former senior official who stated that he recalled the former Garda Commissioner mentioning to him at the time that a legal dispute had arisen between Senior Counsel at the Tribunal, along the lines of what was set out in the email to the Minister's private secretary on 15 May 2015".

"The question of contact with the Garda Commissioner on this issue is encompassed by the terms of reference of the Disclosures Tribunal and accordingly the Department is not in a position to comment further in that regard," the Department of Justice spokesman said.

It has emerged that Frances Fitzgerald did not discuss a controversial email with the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when the pair met a day after the mail was received.The email sent in May 2015 outlined a garda strategy to smear Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Inquiry.

The Tánaiste and Ms O’Sullivan met at an official Garda event one day later but did not discuss the Inquiry at all. Ms Fitzgerald says the email directed that she had no role in pursuing the matter, as it was before a Commission of Investigation.

A Government spokesman told the Irish Examiner that in relation to the ongoing talks between the Taoiseach and Mr Martin that matters are at a “sensitive stage”.

“Contacts are continuing between the two parties today. The Taoiseach is doing everything he can to avoid an election and hopes it will be possible to reach agreement with Micheál Martin. The talks are at a sensitive stage. There is no question of the Tánaiste being asked to resign,” the spokesman said.

Update 12.15pm: It has emerged that Frances Fitzgerald did not discuss a controversial email with the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when the pair met a day after the mail was received.

The email sent in May 2015 outlined a garda strategy to smear Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Inquiry.

The Tánaiste and Ms O’Sullivan met at an official Garda event one day later but did not discuss the Inquiry at all.

Ms Fitzgerald says the email directed that she had no role in pursuing the matter, as it was before a Commission of Investigation.

Meanwhile, talks between the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader are said to be at a sensitive stage as they continue to discuss the political deadlock.

Fianna Fáil received documents yesterday detailing Department of Justice Correspondence in relation to the Minister's handling of the Maurice McCabe controversy.

They will have to determine today if the documents prove Frances Fitzgerald acted appropriately and whether, on the strength of their findings, they still want her to resign.

It comes as a poll shows the parties are almost neck and neck, were an election to be held before Christmas.

There are just two days until a Fianna Fáil motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste is due to be debated, but Fine Gael is standing behind Frances Fitzgerald.

If no deal can be reached, and if the former Justice Minister does not resign, the Dáil will likely be dissolved on Tuesday, with an election some three weeks after.

It's understood both parties genuinely want to avoid an election.

Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer says if they do have to go to the polls they're prepared for it, but it's not the outcome he's hoping for.

"I am always out canvassing personally, I was out canvassing yesterday," Mr Buttimer said.

"It's what we do as politicians. If there is an election then it's being called because of the opportunism of two political parties trying to outsmart one another and that's the reality.

"I think it's important now that we let the tribunal do its work. There is a process in place, established and voted for by the Oireachtas and if we can't let that happen then there is no due process, there is no fairness in politics anymore."

Update 7.41am: Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin are expected to engage again today in a bid to avert a pre-Christmas General Election.

The collapse of the Government could be imminent as the parties disagree over the Tánaiste’s handling of the Maurice McCabe controversy.

Fianna Fail has tabled a motion of no-confidence in the former Justice Minister and are expected to vote on the motion on Tuesday.

Last night the party set about examining Department of Justice documents in a fresh attempt to avoid an election.

Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer says the party remains fully behind Frances Fitzgerald:

"Neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Féin can explain why they want an election over an issue that is being handled by the tribunal.

"The Táinaiste as far as I’m concerned has done nothing wrong, her record as minister has shown that she has protected whistleblowers.

"She has been very much about leading the culture of change within the Department of Justice and within the gardaí so this is opportunism at its worst by the opposition."

Last night, Fianna Fáil were examining Department of Justice documents in an attempt to salvage their supply and confidence agreement with Fine Gael.

The documents contain information in relation to the Tánaiste’s handling of the Maurice McCabe controversy.

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin has called for clarity over the batch of documents.

"Political expediency now has entered into what should be the normal business of answering parliamentary questions," said Deputy Howlin.

"Obviously they are germane to the questions that have been posed by the members of the Oireachtas including Alan Kelly, myself and others.

"They haven’t been provided to members of the Oireachtas but they are to be provided to the leader of Fianna Fail apparently to assuage his concerns and to take the pressure off the government. Now that is an extraordinary state of affairs."

In yesterday’s meeting, the Taoiseach discussed with Micheal Martin the possibility of the role that the Charleton enquiry would play in examining the Táinaiste’s role and knowledge of the Garda legal strategy around Mr McCabe.

There was also talk at the meeting around reforming the Department of Justice.


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