AG did not give Tánaiste legal advice over email

The office of the Attorney General did not give crisis-hit Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald legal advice when she received the May 15, 2015, email raising concerns over the deeply controversial garda legal team strategy against Maurice McCabe.

The Department of Justice confirmed the latest change in the Government’s position over the affair last night, saying the phone conversation with the State’s most senior legal expert’s office was for information purposes and “not legal advice”.

In an email published by Ms Fitzgerald last Tuesday in an attempt to stave off calls for her to resign, the under-pressure Tánaiste stressed on the record in the Dáil and the Seanad that the correspondence said that she was unable to act to tackle the garda legal team’s tribunal strategy to discredit Sgt McCabe.

Specifically, this May 15, 2015, e-mail from department officials said it was agreed with the deputy secretary general of the attorney general, Richard Barrett, that “neither the attorney nor the minister has a function” on the issue.

Ms Fitzgerald and Government had used this line in the email to insist she had been legally told it would be illegal to take any action.

However, in a response to RTÉ last night, a department spokesperson said the contact between it and the attorney general’s office was for information purposes and “not legal advice”.

“The attorney general’s office was providing information in the telephone call in question, not legal advice, however,” the department spokesperson said.

The confirmation after a two-week crisis that Ms Fitzgerald did not receive legal advice from the office of the attorney general in May 15, 2015, could not intervene was heavily criticised last night by Labour TD Alan Kelly.

Mr Kelly — whose public questioning this month exposed the May 15, 2015, email scandal — last night told the Irish Examiner: “This statement from the Department of Justice once and for all proves that the argument put forward by Fine Gael that Frances Fitzgerald couldn’t act is bogus.

“This line in the May 2015 email does not get her off the hook.

“She had a duty to protect Maurice McCabe. And really, the email line defence is just something showing a transcript of a conversation of an opinion.

“That is all this was, it was not legal advice, it was a transcript of a conversation of an opinion, and in no way does this get Frances Fitzgerald off the hook on this.”

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