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Tribunal shown emails from O'Sullivan to Fitzgerald

The Disclosures Tribunal has heard that the former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan drafted a response for the former minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to deliver in the Dáil to deal with the fallout from the controversy that emerged after the O’Higgins Comission report was published.

However, Ms Fitzgerald did not deliver the suggested response and took a different view.

The O’Higgins Commission report was published in May 2016.

It examined policing in Cavan-Monaghan and particular allegations highlighted by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

But it also emerged that, during the commission’s hearings, the Garda Commissioner had attacked Sgt McCabe’s motivation in mounting the allegations.

The Disclosures Tribunal is examining whether the former garda commissioner relied on a false sexual abuse allegation or any other unjustified ground to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

Today, the tribunal was shown a series of three emails sent by Ms O’Sullivan to Ms Fitzgerald on 18 May 2016.

Ms O’Sullivan suggests that Ms Fitzgerald could tell the Dáil that at no point did the garda commissioner instruct her legal team to accuse Sgt McCabe of malice. 

Ms O’Sullivan also enclosed her legal instructions and suggested the minister could say she had full confidence in the commissioner.

The tribunal went through a transcript of Ms Fitzgerald’s Dáil responses during Leaders’ Questions on that date.

The transcript shows that Ms Fitzgerald did not say that she had confidence in the garda commissioner.

She told the Dáil it would be dangerous to put the commissioner’s legal instructions in the public domain.

Counsel for the tribunal, Diarmaid McGuinness, said it appeared to be a concern of the commissioner to put the legal instructions on the record, but the minister took a completely different view.

Later, counsel for Ms O’Sullivan said she was anxious to know at that time that the minister had confidence in her.

The tribunal was also shown contact between the Department of Justice and the commissioner where they appeared to consult on the commissioner’s response to the controversy.

Tribunal Chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said it appeared to be an empty exercise as the commissioner was setting out views to the department that it had already seen.

The contact between the commissioner and the minister emerged during questioning of today’s witness, the former Secretary-General of the Department of Justice, Noel Waters.

Mr Waters said he could not recall receiving various emails and could not say what his reaction would have been. He said some were forwarded to an incorrect email address so he would not have got them.  

He also said he did not recall a 14-minute phone call with the commissioner on the day the row broke out at the O’Higgins Commission.

Mr Waters also said there were long-running issues and, when the minister appeared in public, the first question she was asked was whether she had confidence in the Garda Commissioner.

During cross-examination, Sgt McCabe’s lawyer Michael McDowell suggested to Mr Waters that the commissioner must have told him what went on as she was in the middle of a very delicate matter at the commission.

Mr Waters said he could not confirm and he had no recollection. He said he did not know about anything happening at the O’Higgins Commission’s hearings.

Mr Waters also said the historical sexual abuse allegation made against the sergeant would have been known within the department by May 2015 when the O’Higgins Commission began its hearings.

He also said that he believed the minister would have known about the allegation at that time.

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