Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed the move after concerns were raised over initial plans to ask the Department of the Taoiseach’s secretary general Martin Fraser to lead the probe.
In an initial statement to the Dáil as he announced Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation as tánaiste on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said he was setting up an “external” inquiry into the “dysfunctional” Department of Justice with immediate effect.
The inquiry was agreed as part of discussions with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, but was called into question by opposition parties as it was due to be led by the Department of the Taoiseach’s secretary general.
In his weekly video message last night, Mr Varadkar said after considering the matter he will appoint an independent senior barrister to oversee the investigation.
A senior government source said this is likely to take place over the coming days, and could occur as soon as this weekend.
Confirmation of the change came as it separately emerged the protected letter outlining internal Garda concerns about the Garda unit set up to liaison with the Charleton tribunal was sent to the Department of Justice on Tuesday.
On Thursday, it emerged Acting Commissioner Donall Ó Cualain had written a section 41 letter to Mr Flanagan highlighting internal Garda concerns over the unit, which was set up by former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. The issue, and the existence of two initial letters sent to Mr Ó Cualain, was raised by Garda head of HR John Barrett at last week’s Public Accounts Committee — before Mr Ó Cualain stopped questions.
Garda and government sources confirmed to the Irish Examiner last night the 12-page letter was received by the department on Tuesday. However, it was not mentioned by Mr Flanagan during a meeting with the Dáil justice committee on Thursday. A department spokesperson said this was because Mr Flanagan was at the committee to discuss Garda overtime funding.
The spokesperson said while Mr Flanagan was asked about the liaison unit by Independents4Change TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, he was not asked about the letter.
The letter has since been sent to the Charleton Tribunal, which will consider it.