In the Irish Examiner.
Michael Clifford and Cormac O’Keeffe reported on an answer to a parliamentary question put down by Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall to the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
The answer, published on Tuesday, revealed that the email accounts of the former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and her special advisers were not looked at as part of the “trawl” for documents in the Department of Justice relevant to the Disclosures Tribunal.
The tribunal, overseen by Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton, is examining allegations of a smear campaign against Garda whisteblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
On the same day, Mr Flanagan, in an answer to a separate parliamentary question, revealed the Disclosures Tribunal issued discovery orders on the Department of Justice in February, April and September of this year.
Readers may wish to note that, in response to the question asked by Ms Shortall, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said:
“While the email accounts of the then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and her advisors were not specifically examined as part of the recent trawl for documents, I can confirm that the email accounts of officials working in relevant areas of the Department were searched and that this exercise would of course encompass emails sent from or to the then Minister and her advisors on any such matters.
“I would point out that all discovery orders issued by the Tribunal were complied with fully. The Department has also made extensive voluntary disclosure of other matters including three protected disclosures, reports from the Garda Commissioner under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act and, most recently, the two email threads that were uncovered following a trawl of documents in the Department.
“In acknowledging receipt of the emails, the Tribunal made reference to my Department’s already extensive discovery which has allowed the Tribunal to place the current documents in context.
“I am assured that in the event of further documents being located that may be of relevance to the Tribunal’s work that these will of course be furnished to the Tribunal and I would point out that, the Deputy will be aware, the Taoiseach has announced that there will be an external examination of the way in which my Department fulfilled its obligations in relation to discovering documents to the Tribunal, to conclude before Christmas. That is a step I welcome.”
“I can assure the Deputy that any further Discovery Orders to be made by the Tribunal will also be complied with in full and the Tribunal has been assured of my full and ongoing support in that regard.”
After the a meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on justice and equality, which was attended by Deputy Secretary General at the Department of Justice Oonagh McPhilips…
In the Dail…
Labour TD Alan Kelly said to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar:
“There is an element of denial about what is going on. I spent a period of time at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality this morning and genuinely ask the Taoiseach to ask his colleagues, Deputy Colm Brophy and Senator Martin Conway, who made good contributions about what happened. It was extraordinary.
“Given everything that has gone on and the information we have received through persistent questioning and with help from the media, we still have departmental officials coming to the committee to state the Department provided the information that it had been requested to provide during discovery.
“That is it – nothing has changed. The meeting was deeply worrying. I asked a specific question. I asked if private email addresses that potentially had been used by senior officials for departmental business and mobile phone records had been provided for the tribunal. The answer was that they had not been asked for them.
“I had to ask the officials to ask Mr. Justice Charleton if he wanted this information. Is that not crazy? Has anything changed? We were also told that the information provided had been provided based on the questions asked and that there might be other documentation available.
“In effect, they are acting as judge and jury and as a filtering system in providing information for the Charleton tribunal. The trawl has not changed anything. The culture has not changed.
“There are three specific issues. First, the way in which parliamentary questions are answered has not changed. The Taoiseach made a commitment in the Dáil that it would. I have evidence from yesterday. I am receiving far more text, but I am not getting answers in seeking facts, not speculation.
“Second, when it comes to the information being provided for the Charleton tribunal, we need a volte-face in attitude. The Department needs to provide everything. It needs to err on the side of providing too much. Information on the specific issues I have raised has not been sent.
“Third, I note that last week the Taoiseach was provided with a summary under section 41 by the acting Garda Commissioner. What is he going to do about this? It has to be acted on immediately. It is not a case of writing back and asking more questions.
“The tribunal will be live for the next couple of months and we need this unit to be dealt with. We need answers quickly because it is having a dramatic impact on the operations of the tribunal.
“The Taoiseach should remember that the Department has received lots of correspondence from certain witnesses who have issues and concerns about this issue, on top of the 29 parliamentary questions from me.”
Transcripts via Oireachtas.ie