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Change of plans: Barrister to head up review into Justice Department's email trawl

Concerns had been raised with the Taoiseach about the secretary-general of his own department carrying out the review.

Department of Justice
Department of Justice
Image: Leah Farrell

A SENIOR COUNSEL will carry out the review into how the Department of Justice emails, which brought about the resignation of former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, were missed in the first trawl of documents for the Charleton Tribunal.

Barrister Michael Collins has today been appointed to conduct the independent review and will report back to the Taoiseach on or before 19 January 2018.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had initially asked Martin Fraser, secretary-general of his own department, to complete a full review by Christmas.

However, a number of political parties voiced their unease about a secretary-general of another department carrying out a review into the Department of Justice.

At the time, Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall called for an independent external expert to carry out the review in order for the public to have full confidence in the investigation.

Making the announcement today, the Taoiseach said that the decision had been made following consultation with the attorney general.

The review will involve a “thorough examination of the actions taken by the Department [of Justice] in responding to such requests, relevant documents and records, the processes used within the Department, and communication to and from senior management and the Minister,” the government press office said.

“The review will set out the facts as found, together with such observations or comments as are considered necessary. It may also advise on what further measures, if any, might be taken to address any concerns arising from the review.”

90429539_90429539 Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Secretary General to the Taoiseach Martin Fraser last year. Source: RollingNews.ie

Resignation of the Tánaiste

At the end of last month, the country was brought to the brink of an election following the fallout from the controversy relating to what Fitzgerald knew and what action she took as Justice Minister about the legal strategy being used against whistleblower Maurice McCabe by former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Fianna Fáil sought to force Fitzgerald into stepping down after it was revealed that she ignored an email sent to her in May 2015 regarding McCabe.

However, the issue came to a head when the Justice Department published a number of additional documents relating to whether Fitzgerald knew of the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy against whistleblower McCabe.

Among the revelations in the trove of documents was an email from Fitzgerald’s private secretary which stated that she had “noted” the email which highlighted a row between the legal team for the then-Garda Commissioner and lawyers for McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation.

It was revealed that these additional documents only came to light after the Taoiseach ordered a fresh trawl for documents in the department. It was also confirmed that the documents discovered had not been sent to the tribunal.

Following these revelations, Fitzgerald offered her resignation to the Taoiseach at the end of November, stating that she believed the decision was necessary “to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time”.

Varadkar then ordered an investigation into why the documents only surfaced after he had ordered a trawl of files in the department.

File Photo That email and the Department of Justice. The person who wrote the email did not recall writing it. The minister he wrote for does not recall reading it. If we are to have an election over one email as has been stated repeatedly over recent d Department of Justice Source: Leah Farrell

The Taoisech told the Dáil today that an announcement as to who will carry out that review will be made in the coming days.

He added that due to the secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach not carrying out the review, and due to the delay in appointing an external reviewer, the investigation will not be completed by Christmas.

However, he said he wants the review into why documents were not recovered and not sent to the tribunal to be completed as soon as possible.

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