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Ahead of her evidence tomorrow, tribunal hears about Frances Fitzgerald's emails

The Charleton Tribunal was told that Fitzgerald was told about emails relating to Maurice McCabe.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated 6.40 pm

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER Frances Fitzgerald was shown an email and a printout outlining a challenge by legal representatives of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan to the credibility of Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the Charleton tribunal has heard.

Fitzgerald was shown the email and the hard copy printout in May 2015 during the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, her former private secretary told the tribunal today.

The tribunal is examining whether unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by the former garda commissioner to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

Fitzgerald is scheduled to give evidence before the tribunal tomorrow.

Christopher Quattrociocchi, who worked as private secretary to the minister in 2015 and 2016, told the tribunal that he did not remember receiving an email on Friday 15 May, 2015, from his colleague Michael Flahive about a legal row at the O’Higgins Commission.

Quattrociocchi said his job was to ensure that information flowed to the minister, and he forwarded emails marked for her attention and also printed off paper copies which he gave to her.

The email followed an exchange where counsel for the commissioner raised the issue of an investigation following historical complaints of abuse made against Sgt McCabe a decade earlier. The DPP directed no prosecution following a garda investigation, saying that there was no evidence a crime had been committed.

Records

Department records show that Mr Quattrociocchi forwarded on the email from Mr Flahive on Friday May 15, 2015, which gave a summary of an incident at the O’Higgins Commission.

During this incident, barrister Michael McDowell representing Sgt McCabe, asked if the garda commissioner’s legal team were acting on her instructions in challenging Sgt McCabe’s motivation.

Mr Quattrociocchi said that given that the email arrived late on a Friday evening, it was likely he did not get a paper printout of it to the minister until Monday, 18 May.

He said that the minister would have returned this copy to him having read it on May 25, the date on which he emailed his colleagues to say that it had been noted by the minister.

Mr Quattrociocchi said that he would not have delayed in forwarding the email to the minister. “Once you saw Sgt McCabe’s name, you’d be sure the minister saw the email as soon as possible,” he told the tribunal.

The tribunal heard Mr Quattrociocchi was not present at a meeting between the minister and the garda commissioner a year later, when the O’Higgins report was made public. He said he was surprised there were no minutes of the meeting and that minutes would be taken at meetings he attended.

Tribunal barrister, Kathleen Leader BL, said that the subject of the email seemed to have been “wiped from history” a year later, and was not mentioned in the agenda of the meeting with the garda commissioner.

Inspector Michael McNamara said that references to mala fides and bad faith in notes of a meeting at Garda headquarters the day before Ms O’Sullivan gave evidence to the O’Higgins Commission on November 4, 2015, referred to anticipated lines of questioning she might face from Mr McDowell.

Mr McDowell said it did not stack up that he would be expected to put it to the commissioner that his own client was acting in bad faith.

Conor Dignam SC, on behalf of the Garda Commissioner, said that her instructions to her legal counsel were to challenge Sgt McCabe’s motivation but not mala fides at the O’Higgins Commission.

Uncomfortable

A special advisor to the Fitzgerald also told the tribunal that he felt “uncomfortable” to receive an email about the hearings at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation in May 2015, shortly after it began hearing evidence in relation to complaints by McCabe.

William Lavelle, a special advisor to the former Justice Minister, said that early in Fitzgerald’s time as minister, they agreed that she would not comment on what was happening at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation except to say that the minister awaited the report of the commission.

Mr Lavelle said that issues relating to Sgt McCabe would not necessarily have crossed his desk, and many of the issues would have been dealt with by officials, or by his colleague Marion Mannion.

An email containing details from the commission, which referred to “serious criminal complaint” against Sgt McCabe, was forwarded to Mr Lavelle on 15 May 2015.

Lavelle said this was the first time he had seen an email in relation to the O’Higgins Commission, and the first time he ever heard of a criminal complaint against Sgt McCabe.

In 2006 the DPP had directed no prosecution saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Sgt McCabe following a garda investigation.

“I think first I was surprised to receive the email, I felt it was inappropriate,” Mr Lavelle said.

Lavelle said that the email was “for information only”, and he was not sure why the minister “was being brought into this.”

“Commissions of Investigation statutorily are independent of the minister. I felt uncomfortable that we were now being briefed in relation to a Commission of Investigation in which we had no role,” Mr Lavelle said.

Mr Lavelle said there was “a vast amount of documentation” flowing from the department, and “an information note unless it was marked urgent would not be top of the pile. A note that said no action required would not be top of the pile.

Mr Lavelle said he did not think it appropriate to discuss what was before the commission, and when the minister did not raise the matter with him, he did not follow up proactively.

“It was very clear from the email there was no follow-up required and that as a view I concurred with,” Mr Lavelle said.

Denis Griffin, a higher executive officer and private secretary to the Department of Justice acting secretary general Noel Waters in 2015, said that he forwarded the email to Mr Waters when he saw it.

“Anything about Sgt McCabe at that stage would be brought to his attention,” Mr Griffin told the tribunal.

The former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is scheduled to give evidence before the tribunal tomorrow, and Sgt McCabe is due to appear on Friday.

The tribunal expects to complete the current module by the end of next week, and will then hear closing submissions.

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Gerard Cunningham

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