Ms Fitzgerald, the then justice minister, admitted she received an email in May 2015 detailing a disagreement between counsels representing An Garda Síochána and Garda whistleblower Sgt McCabe during the O’Higgins commission.
This was a full year before the issue became public.
In an interview which appeared to raise many more questions than it answered, Ms Fitzgerald yesterday said the email related to an argument which had arisen at the commission around a “serious criminal complaint” which Sgt McCabe strongly denied.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “I do not have evidence that the State were arguing that Maurice McCabe had a grudge.
The information that was shared from the attorney’s office at that point was about the disagreement of the two counsel down at the tribunal... about the fact that a serious criminal charge, which Sgt McCabe had denied, had been raised.”
She said it “wasn’t for her” to seek out further details.
Ms Fitzgerald explained: “There was a conversation between an official in the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s office.
The attorney general’s office officer told an official in the department in a telephone conversation that an issue had arisen at the tribunal in relation to the approach that the counsel for An Garda Síochána were taking and that the counsel for Sgt Maurice McCabe had objected very strongly to that because it was raising an issue about a serious criminal complaint which his counsel felt had nothing to do with the current situation,” she told RTÉ’s News at One.
“This was then put in an email by the official who had taken the phone call. The department discovered that email last week and I was informed towards the end of the week in relation to this.”
Ms Fitzgerald claimed that this email had only been discovered when the department was “trying to answer various questions that had come in”.
“They found an email that had details of this conversation that had been sent to me at that point and it specifically said in the email that there was no function for me getting involved in a commission of investigation and anybody’s evidence before it, that it would actually be a criminal act by me if I was to get involved in that.”
Just minutes after the radio interview, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil he had taken a call from Sgt McCabe, who, he said, was “adamant” that the serious criminal complaint which Ms Fitzgerald said was detailed in the email was not discussed at the O’Higgins commission.
“He is taking very serious issue with the remarks of the Tánaiste on the News at One today and, it is my understanding, will be issuing a statement,” Mr Martin said in the Dáil.
“The House will appreciate I have only taken the call. I am not in a position to adjudicate on this or not, but it again raises more questions than answers.”
Pressed further on her
receipt of the email in 2015, Ms Fitzgerald said: “I don’t remember that particular email.
“One of the reasons that I don’t remember it is because if specifically said that I had no function in relation to evidence before a tribunal given by any party.
“I don’t remember that particular email but the department found it last Thursday and I spoke to the department and sought what was in it.”
Ms Fitzgerald was then asked if leaks around a smear campaign to discredit Sgt McCabe and question his motives had not refreshed her memory of the 2015 email; she did not directly answer but said she couldn’t operate off leaks.
“What I was saying was it (leaks) was part of the story and as Minister for Justice I couldn’t operate on the basis of leaks that were coming out. [It is] important to remember that there is a tribunal sitting at the moment to examine specifically the issue of that strategy and whether there was a strategy in place. I cannot assume what that strategy was.
“What is referenced in the email is an event at the tribunal in relation to a disagreement between the two counsels and the details around that. That’s what’s referenced, it’s not about an overall strategy.”