‘I’d no role in McCabe legal strategy’, says Frances Fitzgerald

Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald made a “conscious decision” not to interfere in the legal strategy being put forward at the O’Higgins Commission after receiving an email about it, the Disclosures Tribunal has heard.

‘I’d no role in McCabe legal strategy’, says Frances Fitzgerald

Her comments appear to contradict both her written statement to the tribunal and her remarks in the Dáil where she said she had no recollection of the email sent on May 15, 2015, detailing a legal row that had broken out at the commission.

Ms Fitzgerald is the latest witness to give evidence at tribunal which is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to discredit whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation.

It is expected Ms Fitzgerald could be further quizzed on how she could make a “conscious decision” in relation to an email she cannot remember when she appears at the tribunal again today.

Ms Fitzgerald also told the tribunal that the email, which sparked controversy when it was unearthed last November, had led to her departure, stating: “I resigned to avoid a general election because of the circumstances at the time”.

The email stated that an allegation of a serious criminal complaint — which Mr McCabe had always denied — had been raised at the commission in a bid to question the whistleblower’s motivations.

Appearing before the tribunal yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald said it would not have been appropriate for her to interfere in what was going on at the commission and she trusted that Judge Kevin O’Higgins would deal with any matters that arose.

“I made a conscious decision obviously to not interfere in the Commission of Investigation because I would have considered it inappropriate,” said the former tánaiste.

She added that she also made “a conscious decision that Judge O’Higgins would deal with whatever issues” surfaced at the inquiry which was held in private in 2015.

Ms Fitzgerald established the commission to investigate complaints made by Sgt McCabe about certain policing matters and about serious allegations against senior officers including then Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan.

The 2015 email, which brought the Government to the brink of collapse, only surfaced after Labour TD Alan Kelly sent in a series of parliamentary questions late last year.

Addressing the issue in the Dáil last November, Ms Fitzgerald claimed she did not remember receiving the email but said: “‘I can only assume I did read the email.”

Ms Fitzgerald also stood firm in stressing she had no “hand, act or part” in a legal strategy adopted by An Garda Síochána in respect of the treatment of Sgt McCabe.

But yesterday she was asked whether the email would not have raised “alarm bells”; however, she said she wasn’t aware of the detail of what was going on at the commission.

“My attitude would have been that Judge O’Higgins would have dealt with it in the appropriate way.

“I felt that this was something that Judge O’Higgins would deal with,” adding that she had “no role” in the matter and “whatever the issue was, that it would be worked through at the commission under the guidance of Judge O’Higgins”.

She claimed that she did not speak to anyone, including Ms O’Sullivan, about the email as it was sent purely for information and did not require further action.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “Imagine if I had, I would have been accused of interfering with the legal strategy of a party to the commission.

“If I had interfered with the O’Higgins Commission in any way I would be answering different questions,” she told the tribunal adding: “The day of political interference or anything like that was well gone as far as I was concerned.”

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