Department of Justice failed to examine ministers’ devices

Oonagh McPhillips

The Department of Justice has admitted that officials never examined any private email or mobile phones belonging to ministers or their advisors during its search for files linked to the disclosures tribunal.

Acting Secretary General Oonagh McPhillips confirmed the failure to review the potentially key records despite saying that it has co-operated fully with the tribunal to date.

Speaking at the latest Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday, Ms McPhillips said she and her department have at no time attempted to hide or conceal information which may be of interest to the ongoing inquiry into how Maurice McCabe was treated by the state.

However, asked several times by Labour TD Alan Kelly, she eventually admitted that the private emails and phone records of former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald, other former ministers and senior officials have failed to be examined.

“There are 30m records held in the department, but phone records and private emails are not covered. The trawl took place under guidance from the tribunal. I can confirm what the deputy was asking,” said Ms McPhillips.

The comment was criticised by Mr Kelly, who noted that serious concerns have previously been raised over unrelated incidents involving other politicians who have conducted official business on private emails.

Mr Kelly also hit out at the situation as it is in contrast to what the department promised the Dáil Justice Committee it would do in a meeting last December.

Meanwhile, at the same PAC meeting yesterday, the Department of Justice was criticised for spending almost €4m on a facility on Wolfe Tone St in Dublin City.

The building was meant to be used by the Probation Service, but was ultimately stalled because of a lack of planning permission after more than €1m was spent on fitting costs, leading Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell to note: “You spent €1.068m in 60 days? It’s not physically possible, unless you were wallpapering it in gold.”

Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry raised further concerns about the amount of money spent on the building, saying it was a failure on the part of the department as it did not ensure the planning permission was in place before it began its work.

Ms McPhillips admitted the department was at fault for the error, but said under questioning no official has lost their job over what happened.

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