From top: Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Social Democrat TD Roisin Shortall; and a press release issued by Mr Flanagan on November 13 (click to enlarge)
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan gave a ten-minute speech in which he apologised to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Labour TD Alan Kelly, and the Dail.
His apology came after it emerged Mr Flanagan was told about a May 15, 2015 email – which alleged a disagreement had taken place at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation between the legal counsel for Sgt Maurice McCabe and the former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan over Sgt McCabe’s alleged motivation – on November 13 last.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar didn’t have sight of the email for the first time until November 20.
And, on November 14 and 15, Mr Varadkar told the Dail that the Department of Justice wasn’t able to find any record that the department was informed of a legal strategy employed by An Garda Siochana to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe at the commission.
The sequence of events caused Mr Varadkar to correct the Dail record.
Mr Flanagan said the following:
“It has been said that I sat beside the Taoiseach last week and allowed him to misinform the Dáil. That is not correct. I wish to explain to the House the sequence of events of the past few days from my perspective.
“On Monday, 13 November, I was in my constituency office in Portlaoise as well as undertaking an official engagement at the Midlands Prison. In the course of the day, I received a phone call from the Secretary General of my Department [Noel Waters].
“He informed me that having reached 40 years’ service, he intended to retire and asked me to inform Cabinet the following morning. This was unexpected and I was taken aback. I became worried. I was still digesting the news when reference was made to an email pertaining to the O’Higgins commission and Sergeant McCabe that had been discovered in the Department.
“I responded automatically that anything potentially relevant to the tribunal should be immediately conveyed to Mr Justice Charleton and the tribunal.
“I simply missed the significance of the email, which I viewed as just another addition to the more than 230 documents already discovered to the tribunal from the Department of Justice and Equality.
“I did not see the actual email until a week later on the night of Monday, 20 November. That is why I did not raise the matter with the Taoiseach.“
Social Democrat TD Roisin Shortall responded to Mr Flanagan, saying:
“We learned from the Taoiseach today that the Minister received news of the email on 13 November but that he did not do anything or did not see it until 20 November. The Minister has said tonight that he was otherwise busy and missed the significance of it.
“However, he did find time on 13 November to issue a press statement. The press statement was very much in line with the kind of defence we have been hearing from the Department and from the Minister’s predecessor.
“It spoke about there being no question of the Department interfering, about it being inappropriate for anybody else to seek to interfere and so forth. It was a very defensive press statement which seemed to come out of the blue.
“Why did the Minister issue that press statement on 13 November? He was busy and he says that he did not know about the email. Why did he issue that press statement? Who wrote it for him? Did he actually read it?”
Mr Flanagan responded:
“A press statement issued from my Department on 13 November in respect of public commentary that had been made in both the newspapers and the broadcast media over the previous weekend.
“I instructed my press office to issue a reminder to everybody in order to ensure that the tribunal should not be in any interrupted or disrupted by commentary in the media – or, indeed, in the Dáil – on matters which, quite rightly, pertained exclusively to the tribunal.”
Readers may note Sgt McCabe has told Mr Varadkar that the counsels’ argument – as alleged in the May 15, 2015 email never happened and that, instead, the counsels argued over the gardai claiming Sgt McCabe had a grudge because he wanted the DPP’s directions in relation to Ms D’s ‘dry humping’ claim overturned.
The gardai made this claim under the belief that Sgt McCabe hadn’t seen the DPP’s directions but he had and they were unequivocally in his favour – which he told the commission.
The Disclosures Tribunal will investigate matters concerning the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation from January 8.
Previously: In DPP Trouble