Tánaiste’s defence in tatters following release of Department of Justice files

Frances Fitzgerald’s May 2015 McCabe scandal defence was last night left in tatters after new Department of Justice files showed that she was fully aware of “aggressive” tribunal attacks against the whistle-blower — and that her officials actively liaised with then-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan on how to avoid July 2015 media questions on the issue.

The records, which were released last night, raise serious questions over whether Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was aware of the files when he was staunchly defending Ms Fitzgerald, and why neither Ms Fitzgerald nor current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan mentioned them despite being informed of the trawl on Friday.

This also means that questions must be asked over why the files were not sent to the Charleton tribunal despite any documents relating to the scandal being requested by the legal body.

On July 4, 2015, Ms Fitzgerald’s officials liaised with Ms O’Sullivan on how to answer July 2015 questions on the legal strategy from RTÉ journalist Colm Ó Mongáin.

Department deputy secretary Ken O’Leary wrote directly to Ms Fitzgerald to inform her that “the garda commissioner phoned me to let me know they had received queries” regarding the issue.

Ms Fitzgerald was also told in the same email of the “aggressive” approach to Sgt McCabe by the garda team at the tribunal, and was advised to answer media questions by saying that the whistleblower was a valued member of the force.

Separately, the documents reveal that, on May 15, 2015, Ms Fitzgerald’s officials were sent an email from the assistant secret- ary to the Department’s garda division, Michael Flahive, outlining the garda strategy.

On the same date, Ms Fitzgerald’s private secretary, Chris Quattrocriocchi, said: “I’ll flag this with the minister.”

On May 25, 2015, Mr Quattrocriocchi responded again to say “the minister has noted the below”, confirming that, 10 days later, the email was still being discussed and that it had been read by Ms Fitzgerald.

The confirmation of the email chain undermines the Tánaiste’s version of events and her repeated claim that she was not informed, did not read, or did not remember reading the vital email.

This is in addition to revelations at the weekend that at least seven of Ms Fitzgerald’s most senior officials were also aware of the May 15, 2015, email and would have been able to clarify her error last week.

The email interaction raises fresh questions over the interaction between the gardaí and the department while An Garda Síochána’s legal strategy to discredit Mr McCabe’s tribunal evidence was underway.

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