Government dismisses attempts to amend Charleton Tribunal terms

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan

The Government has dismissed attempts to amend the terms of reference of the Charleton investigation claiming it would further delay the “vital” work of the tribunal.

Sinn Féin has called for the terms of reference to be broadened following the controversy that led to the resignation of the Tánaiste earlier this week.

The motion asked that the Disclosures Tribunal be able to take account of the recent revelations regarding the Department of Justice, Ministers of Justice past and present, the Attorney General’s office, and An Garda Síochána.

However, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he had been legally advised the “extremely broad nature” of the Sinn Féin motion meant it was unclear whether the extra terms of reference would achieve anything in the public interest.

“I believe, no-one in this house wishes to further delay a tribunal which is undertaking vital work and which, indeed, has brought forward its work in recognition of ‘definite matters of urgent public importance’, and I think all of us in this house agrees they are now urgent,” Mr Flanagan said.

He added that any amendments to the terms of reference would have to go through both the Dáil and Seanad which would “clearly impact the timeframe for the tribunal”.

Sinn Féin Justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire claimed his party had tried to bring forward a motion which outlined very specific changes, but this was “unfairly” ruled out of order due to time constraints.

“Our motion today is very simple; we are calling on the Government to amend the current terms to explicitly include the Minister for Justice and department officials,” he said.

Fianna Fáil agreed that the current terms of reference are wide enough to include the latest revelations.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Alan Kelly is seeking answers over a special Garda unit set up to handle allegations being investigated by the Charleton Tribunal.

Over half a dozen gardai and staff are assigned to liaise between the force and the inquiry but Labour is concerned about value for money and internal disagreement in the gardaí over the unit.

Mr Kelly, the TD whose questions sparked the current Garda whistleblower controversy, wants to know if proper approval was given by the Government or departments for the tribunal watch unit.

“The Charleton Liaison Committee is a unit that works for An Garda Síochána in managing documentation supply and other matters with the Charleton Tribunal. It is funded by the taxpayer. It has had significant resources attached to it; two full-time retired senior members of the force and one officer seconded, a solicitor as well as a number of other full time personnel and regional liaison personnel.”

Among the fresh questions asked by Mr Kelly, include how much the unit is costing and who signed off on it within the Department of Justice. Crucially, the Labour TD wants to know if the unit is available for and being used by all serving and former personnel in An Garda Síochána who are witnesses at the tribunal.

Given the fact the tribunal is investigating concerns of a number of whistleblowers still in the force, Mr Kelly also asked: “Is the minister satisfied that the unit is seen to be ‘fair’ to all Garda parties at the tribunal?”

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