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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 3

Justice Issues: Statements

Before I invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to make his statement, I wish to outline the position on sub judice matters for the information of Members. Standing Order 59 states, "a matter shall not be raised in such an overt manner so that it appears to be an attempt by the Dáil to encroach on the functions of the Courts or a Judicial tribunal". Questions relating to matters of internal administration or communications with the Department of Justice and Equality are not sub judice as they do not fall within the terms of reference of the disclosures tribunal. However, I cannot allow any questions regarding communications involving the Commissioner as they are covered by the tribunal's terms of reference and are sub judice.

The disclosures tribunal published a public notice on Friday last, 24 November, in which it stated that it will sit from Monday, 8 January 2018 to consider a range of matters commencing with the O'Higgins commission issue. It further stated that it intends to deal with certain relevant matters in a single hearing, with a view to completing the hearings of the tribunal with the utmost expedition. In the circumstances, it would be a clear encroachment on the tribunal's functions for the House to debate such matters. We had a similar debate last week and everyone stayed within the guidelines. I have no doubt they will do so on this occasion as well.

We will have a ten-minute statement from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and there will then be six minutes for each of the groups. Similar to last time, there will be one minute allowed for a supplementary question and one minute for a reply. I should not have to advise members, but I will do so. I will be very strict in enforcing that one-minute rule.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the House for allowing me, as I requested this morning, to make this statement. I want to address a number of issues that have arisen in recent days.

I apologise to Deputy Alan Kelly on two counts. First, for my intemperate comments in the House on November 15 when I stated that Deputy Kelly was engaged in a smear campaign against me. I had been told by people in my constituency and beyond that Deputy Kelly was making very negative comments about me in their presence. I have always considered Deputy Kelly to be a good colleague, both in this Parliament and Government. I confess I was taken aback and offended when these remarks were made to me. I fully accept that I reacted badly. I apologise to Deputy Kelly and to the House and withdraw my remarks in their entirety.

Second, I apologise in respect of the matter of replies to parliamentary questions on matters relating to the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Deputy Kelly put down a series of detailed questions in recent weeks primarily regarding the activities of officials of my Department, particularly in the period prior to my appointment. I was consistently advised in my Department that to engage in issues that are under the remit of a sitting tribunal and accommodated within its terms of reference would breach the Standing Orders of the Dáil, improperly encroach upon the workings of a tribunal and amount to a parallel process, thereby undermining the tribunal. I accepted that advice at the time in good faith and I note the tribunal’s public notice last Friday, to which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle referred. It is only right to acknowledge that Deputy Kelly’s parliamentary questions should have been better dealt with by me. I am respectfully asking that the Ceann Comhairle offer his assistance in the provision of guidelines in respect of how to respond to issues that fall within the terms of reference of sitting tribunals and how such issues can be dealt with by the House while tribunals are sitting. This is a matter which should be considered at the earliest opportunity. I look forward to receiving a report from the Ceann Comhairle in respect of it.

I wish to record my thanks to Deputy Kelly for his parliamentary questions which led to the unearthing of an email that had not been seen or sent to the tribunal. As the House is aware, the Taoiseach subsequently ordered a search and retrieval of documents which resulted in the retrieval of a further email chain that is now with the tribunal. I was shocked and, frankly, horrified that there were records in the Department of Justice and Equality that should have been provided to the disclosures tribunal. As Minister, I have repeatedly emphasised the vital importance of full co-operation by the Department with the tribunal. I have taken every opportunity to stress this within the Department. It is an understatement to say I am bitterly disappointed by the events of recent weeks. It has been a major challenge at every step to obtain information of a complete nature in a timely manner. On a few occasions recently, information has been provided to me, to the Taoiseach and then to the House which has subsequently proven to be inaccurate. That is completely unacceptable. I wish to formally apologise to the Taoiseach, the Ceann Comhairle and the House for this. In recent days, it has been clear that information in the possession of journalists and members of the Opposition has not been forthcoming to me, as Minister for Justice and Equality.

As Minister, I have received 12,000 emails since my appointment on 14 June and, as a Deputy representing my constituency, approximately 500 per week. There has been commentary on the emails to the Tánaiste to that effect, namely, that it is significant that they came from a person described as a senior official. The reality of Departments is that almost everything that comes to a Minister internally comes from a senior official. The proper practice for conveying important information to a Minister is through a submission. Since 14 June, I have dealt with 341 submissions from senior officials in my Department. Each of these is carefully considered upon receipt. I know the information must be significant because of the manner in which it is conveyed. A clear lesson from this episode is that officials should not use emails to convey information which should properly be transmitted to the office of the Minister in a formal submission document.

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. 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.

Every Department has its own unique challenges but I am strongly of the view that the scale of certain Departments requires a fundamental rethink of the structure of ministerial offices. I was appointed Minister for Justice and Equality 23 weeks ago, which includes a two-month Dáil recess. Since June, I have dealt with: 12 items of Private Members’ business; brought the heads of three Bills to Cabinet; steered four justice Bills through the Houses; and a further 26 Bills are in the course of being drafted. I acknowledge the invaluable and generous help of my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in all this work. Since 14 June, 1,829 parliamentary questions have been responded to and I have dealt with 341 formal submissions. I have brought 58 memorandums to Cabinet. I have received 435 invitations or requests to attend or speak at events. Last weekend, between Friday and Monday, 163 questions were put to the Department's press office by the media. A handful of people worked diligently throughout the weekend trying to ensure that these press queries were dealt with. I am advised that approximately 420 media queries were received during past three weeks, of which 235 related to matters directly pertaining to the Charleton tribunal. A further 185 other questions related to a wide range of other issues under the remit of what can only be described as a vast Department.

I am not objecting to my workload - far from it - but I believe that the scale of sensitive and important issues that land hourly on the desk of the Minister for Justice and Equality who, in terms of senior staff, has a single policy adviser points to a need for further external expertise in the Minister’s office.

It would be completely wrong to imply that the fault for the problems in the Department lies with every member of its 2,000 strong workforce, a workforce that exceeded 3,000 prior to the economic collapse of the State. Today, officials are thinly stretched. A legacy of dealing with terrorism and serious crime has had an effect. I refer, in particular, to the period when the State was under serious threat from the Provisional IRA and other terrorists. What in modern times might be seen as secretive or siloed was at the height of the Troubles, no doubt, a necessary state of affairs. It should be acknowledged that the Department continues to deal with very serious threats to the State. However, there is more to it than crime and security; its remit now encompasses everything from gender equality to policing and from counterterrorism to insolvency. In fact, it is three Departments in one.

This evening the Secretary General, Mr. Noel Waters, informed me that he had brought forward his retirement to today. I acknowledge his long service to the State over five decades. My experience of him is as a very capable Secretary General who has led his staff with dedication, a clear sense of civic duty, humility and kindness in extremely difficult times. He will be hugely missed by all in the Department, including me, as Minister, and my team.

Since my appointment as Minister, I have worked with some exceptionally diligent, civic-minded and honourable officials in the Department. We owe it to them, as well as to this House and the country at large, to ensure the Department is equipped to meet the many challenges it faces. In particular, it is important that the Toland report's recommendations be implemented in an effective way.

The problems in the Department are not new. There seems to be an inevitability about former justice Ministers appearing before tribunals. I read this morning that in 2003 the former Ministers Ray Burke, Padraig Flynn, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Nora Owen and John O'Donoghue gave evidence to the Morris tribunal, for example. The fate of my two predecessors is well known to everybody. We need to reflect on all of these matters and ask why that is the case. Today we have seen the resignation of the former Tánaiste, to whom I pay tribute. I believe Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is fundamentally a good person of the highest integrity and compassion. Without question, she did her very best as Minister for Justice and Equality in difficult circumstances. Her commitment at all times was to making a positive difference to the lives of the people of the country.

Fundamentally, when everything else is peeled away, the essence of this issue is that Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family must have truth and justice.

I know that the Minister needs a few more minutes. With the agreement of the House, it is important that we allow him to continue. Is that agreed? Agreed.

In pursuit of that truth and justice the disclosures tribunal has a critical job to do. I believe Mr. Justice Charleton has acted in the public interest by bringing forward to 8 January the public hearings at which he will examine the allegations that there was a malicious campaign against Sergeant McCabe during the O'Higgins commission. I acknowledge the role played by many journalists who have written on this issue. I also acknowledge the role of this House, but we must all agree that a tribunal offers a special order of status, depth and rigour. I wish Mr. Justice Charleton well in his vital work that lies ahead.

I thank the Minister for his statement. He mentioned that prior to the issue about the e-mails becoming apparent, some 230 documents were discovered by the Department to the disclosures tribunal. Were they discovered by way of an affidavit of discovery sworn on behalf of the Department? If they were, was there a claim of legal professional privilege made over the documents sent to the tribunal or is the case that the Department has waived its claim to privilege over documents that, for instance, were generated in 2014, 2015 and 2016?

Each and every one of the documents preceded my tenure in the Department of Justice and Equality. When the tribunal of inquiry was set up, it was made quite clear that anyone with any information should forward same to the tribunal. I believe there was special significance on the matter of the Department and it was in that context that a discovery process got under way in the Department which provided a tranche of documents, in excess of 230, all of which were forwarded to the tribunal with due haste and speed, having regard to the legal requirement on the part of officials in the Department to co-operate fully with the tribunal and to the history of this matter and the role and function of the Department.

After that I do not know whether a claim for privilege was made in respect of them, but we can deal with that matter at another time. The Minister has mentioned the process that was undertaken by the Department for the purpose of assessing the documents to be handed up to the tribunal. I ask him to describe that process. Does he know whether the e-mails of 15 May 2015 and 4 July 2015 were considered as part of the discovery process and was a decision then made not to hand them over, or is it the case that they were never spotted before and that they only recently come to light?

My understanding is they were new documents that had only came to light and not been given consideration in any earlier process.

The report, I think of the Secretary General, states the discovery search was limited to dates from 19 December 2014 to 11 May 2016. There was logic to that because they are the dates when the commission of investigation was announced in this House and on which it was published, 11 May 2016. However, it is the case that after 11 May 2016 there were questions in this House. For instance, I think on 17 May 2016, Deputy Micheál Martin referred to the article in the Irish Examiner and the challenge to Sergeant McCabe's motivation. Will the Minister give consideration to extending the time period beyond 11 May 2016, as it may very well be the case that there are relevant documents after that date?

If that has not already been included in the trawl instructed by the Taoiseach last week, I will be happy to have it done.

This sorry episode has seen the Secretary General, Mr. Noel Waters, resign from his position with immediate effect. He is the second Secretary General to resign in recent years, a fact which of itself raises alarm about the state of play in the Department. His resignation letter is quite remarkable. It states: "The Department has been subject to a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today." He goes on to speak about things that were said in the Dáil. I know that there are many committed members of staff in the Department; that is not questioned, but the Department for which he is responsible failed to find several pieces of key documentation relevant to the Charleton tribunal, despite two processes which should have required a deep scouring of files. It caused the Taoiseach to mislead the Dáil three times in a week and to put the wrong facts on the record. How can the Minister stand over this? How can he explain it? Does he accept that such criticism, some of which came from the seat in which he is sitting, was entirely warranted?

I acknowledge that there are problems in the Department of Justice and Equality. I think that was made clear in my earlier contribution. In that regard, I believe it is important to acknowledge the good work done in the Department. What we are dealing with is how we can move forward and ensure we can learn lessons from the past three weeks in such a way that we can ensure we will never have a recurrence.

I do not think that quite answered the question. I was looking for a fairly direct statement on whether the Minister believed the criticism was warranted. He can answer that question along with this one.

I will briefly outline a dateline for how the particular e-mail came to public attention. The Department located it on 9 November. On 13 November the Minister was notified by the Secretary General. On 14 November the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the then Tánaiste had no prior knowledge of the legal strategy detailed in the e-mail. On 16 November the then Tánaiste was informed of it - the Taoiseach was still not informed. On 20 November the media broke the story and the Taoiseach finally had sight of the e-mail. On 21 November he corrected the Dáil record. I understand it was on that evening that the documents were sent to the Charleton tribunal.

Whatever about their being missed during the processes, there are many questions. Why did it take seven or eight days from the time the Minister was informed for the Charleton tribunal to receive the documents, which was 11 days after the Department had found them? Why did it take four days from the time the e-mails were found for the Minister to be informed? Obviously, the withholding of information which the Minister has essentially acknowledged in all but word is a criminal issue; it is very serious. How can it be explained that they were kept from the Minister and the Taoiseach for so long?

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I wish to state that much of the criticism that has been made of the Department of Justice and Equality today and earlier is warranted. I want to ensure that this will not be the case again.

As far as the timelines to which the Deputy referred are concerned, he is broadly correct. In respect of the discovery of the document, there will be an investigation. It will be an independent investigation and it will be completed prior to Christmas. I am not in a position to explain fully to the House the reasons for the delay in discovering these documents. From the discovery of the document to its ultimate transmission to the tribunal there were certain legal issues to be checked, as stated earlier by Deputy O'Callaghan. The advice of the Attorney General was sought, but if there are still outstanding delays within that timeframe, I believe the investigation, which will start at the earliest opportunity, will deal with that in a comprehensive way.

I hope it will because there was a significant delay, even after their discovery within the Department, between them being brought to the Minister's attention and sent to the Charleton tribunal.

I was interested in the Minister's response to Deputy O'Callaghan, which relates to whether these documents were considered before or whether they were news. He stated that, essentially, they are new documents. The Department had gone through two substantial exercises in looking for documentation, namely, by means of the O'Neill scoping exercise and on foot of the discovery order for the Charleton tribunal. If the Minister is saying that these are new documents, that leads us to assume that in searching for such relevant documentation, the emails of the Secretary General of the Department were not considered and neither were those of other relevant officials or key political advisers within that Department. How is it possible that, in the context of a scoping exercise or a discovery order, emails of the key officials and political staff within the Department for the relevant dates were not considered? Is it the case that these people's email accounts were not checked? How is it possible that they did not show up in searches given where it was located?

It seems that, of the tens of thousands of emails that were received in the Department within that period, no reference was made to the email of 15 May. My understanding is that it was considered, in the context of what had been forwarded to the tribunal, as a new document. However, there is more work to be done in that regard and it will be done in the context of the forthcoming examination.

As regards the alleged delay in the matter from 9 November until 20 November-----

It is hardly alleged.

-----it seems that, on inquiry, there were legal issues to be dealt with and that certain proofing that had to be factored in. Again, however, I am very anxious to ensure that if there was any element of wilful neglect, it will be dealt with in the context of forthcoming events.

I want to stick with the timeline for the purposes of clarity. The Minister told us that he became aware of the existence of the email to the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality on 13 November in his constituency office. It was found on 9 November. What is the explanation of why the Minister was not told for those four days? Why did he not ask to see it immediately? I know he was taken aback by being informed of the retirement but I think most people would connect the two, with, for example, a person saying, "I am retiring and by the way we found an important new email". Did the Minister not ask to see it and why did he not do so? Why did he not tell the former Tánaiste of its existence? She was required to actually ring the Department to be informed. In fact, neither the Department nor the Minister ever told her directly. Why was it not sent to the tribunal for a full week, particularly if the Minister instructed this to happen on 13 November last? Why is it that the writ of the Minister, a direct instruction, could go unresponded to for a full week in respect of a matter of this importance?

On the matter of the first question raised by Deputy Howlin, I was told of the existence of an email. I was not provided with appropriate details to allow me to link the email to the issues that were under question in the Dáil on the following days. The existence of an email to me was along the same lines as the 230 documents, many of which were emails, that had been already forwarded to the disclosures tribunal. Of course, it has now transpired that this was an email of great significance. In hindsight, had I known the full content of the email and had it been sent to me, I think the events of the past couple of weeks would have been somewhat different. I did not ask to see the email, but what I did ask was for were assurances that the document would be forwarded to the disclosures tribunal in line with both the requirements and the demands of the tribunal, and in accordance with the law.

But it was not sent.

On inquiry, as to the reason it was not sent, my understanding, as I said to Deputy Ó Laoghaire, was that there were legal issues regarding the document and there was the matter of privilege, which was considered. The matter was referred to the Attorney General and that has been put forward as an explanation for the lapse of time until 22 November.

I am interested in the Minister's view on that and whether he finds it acceptable. I know that he is aware of the legal obligations-----

The Minister can come back to me on that point. He is aware of the legal obligations that are in place to ensure co-operation with the tribunal. It is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of legal obligation. The legislation is clear and contains significant sanctions in order to ensure compliance. however, the Minister's Department did not comply. As a result, we understand that the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach is going to oversee a so-called external inquiry before Christmas. One civil servant reviewing the work of other civil servants does not constitute an external examination. Will the Minister agree to appoint somebody outside the Civil Service to conduct this external inquiry?

Has the Minister informed the Garda of a potential breach of the criminal law?

I will be very happy to have consultations with any Member of the House or with the party leaders on the point raised by Deputy Howlin. If there is a view in the House that the appropriate examination which should take place should involve somebody external of Government, I would be very happy to consider that.

I have no knowledge of any specific complaint on this particular issue as having been made to the Garda Síochána at this stage. I am conscious, however, of the terms of reference of the tribunal and the consequences that arise from a wilful failure to disclose appropriate documentation or in respect of behaviour that is regarded as contrary to the tribunal of disclosures legislation.

The announcement that the Secretary General of the Minister's Department is to retire early next year came as a surprise to the Minister. He said that it almost knocked him out of his standing. Coming at the same time as the notification to him of the first email to the Tánaiste, surely it warranted further examination. Now we discover that the Secretary General has brought his retirement forward to today, taking away the opportunity for him to be held to account. In his email to Departmental staff, which has already been quoted, he said, "The Department has been subject to a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today". It would appear that he is taking issue with what was said by the Taoiseach today in his description of the Minister's Department as "dysfunctional".

I wish to ask three brief questions. Who is charge of the Department administratively from today? What specific steps is the Minister putting in place to find a new Secretary General and will the process in this regard include a trawl outside the normal top level appointments committee, TLAC, process? Can the Minister explain why the Secretary General is leaving today rather than serving his full notice period, as we understood would happen?

I cannot go beyond the statement of the Secretary General. I acknowledge his work in the Department and, on my part, as Minister, I also acknowledge the appropriate level of criticism that has been directed towards the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department, from an administrative point of view, is now headed up by the deputy Secretary General. My understanding is that the TLAC process is already under way, following a recommendation by me to Cabinet on the Tuesday before last to the effect that the appropriate mechanics be set in motion for the appointment of a full-time Secretary General to the Department of Justice and Equality at the earliest opportunity.

Obviously, the timeframe has changed as a result of today's events. I am quite sure that will be considered by TLAC in the context of its engagement on this matter.

As far as the Minister is aware, there is no particular reason Mr. Waters brought his retirement forward.

As I said in my opening comments, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, having reached 40 years' service, has decided to retire from his position.

It is very interesting that he has decided to bring his retirement forward given that he was due to come before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality tomorrow week.

I would like to complete my response to Deputy Howlin by saying I expect that everybody in the Department of Justice and Equality - including those who may not now be in the Department - will continue to be responsible for dealing with these issues.

When the Minister was in his constituency on 13 November last - unlucky 13 - he received a phone call from the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. He must have been shocked when the Secretary General, having clocked up 40 years' service, dropped a bombshell - out of the blue - and said he was retiring. That was the first bit of news. The second bit of news was that an email relating to the Maurice McCabe situation, which should have been sent to the tribunal but had not been sent to it, was being sent on. When the words "Maurice McCabe" are mentioned, I am sure it gives rise to a frisson and causes alarm bells to go off in the minds of Ministers, particularly the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, did not ask the Secretary General what the email was about. I know there were another 230 emails. That day, the next day, the day after or the day after that-----

The Deputy will have another opportunity.

-----the Minister did not put together the fact that there must be some connection between the retirement of the Secretary General and the email.

I cannot allow that.

Does the Minister think that is credible?

In the course of my conversation with the Secretary General, it was made quite clear to me that the timing of his retirement and the matter of the tribunal were entirely coincidental. The email mentioned by the Deputy referred to a document which pertained to the O'Higgins commission and Sergeant McCabe. As soon as I heard about the nature of the document, I immediately stated that it should be transmitted to the tribunal at the earliest opportunity.

Anyone who has been listening to the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, in recent days would get the impression that when she got sight of the fact that the Garda Commissioner was taking an adversarial approach to Maurice McCabe, she wanted to intervene to help the whistleblower but she was legally forbidden to do so. That is the impression anyone would have. I am really struck by the language used in the emails sent between the Garda Commissioner and the senior officials in the Department of Justice and Equality. One message that was sent to from "N" to "Ken" - "N" being Nóirín O'Sullivan - read, "Ken, exact text of what was received by pro and our response. N". It is clear that at a time when the Garda was planning to attack Maurice McCabe, there was a cosy relationship between two friends, one in a senior position in the Garda and one in a senior position in the Department. I ask the Minister to comment on this cosy relationship.

I am satisfied that the former Tánaiste had no hand, act or part in designing, guiding or devising any strategy against Sergeant McCabe at any juncture. These issues will now be the subject of considerable investigation and discourse at the tribunal. I look forward to the former Tánaiste being vindicated by the tribunal at the earliest opportunity.

My final question relates to what is happening today. Tonight, the Government and the Minister are putting blame onto the shoulders of the Department. In addition to what has been said in here, there have been whispers around the House all day to that effect. It is clear from Mr. Waters's resignation letter that the Department is putting a share of blame back into the Government's court. Who is right and who is wrong? It seems to me that there is blame in both quarters. It has been shown in what has come out over the past two weeks that the former Garda Commissioner was attacking Maurice McCabe. The senior officials in the Department were well aware of that. The former Minister was briefed, but she did not intervene. Is the Government to blame or is the Department to blame? I think both of them are to blame. I ask the current Minister to comment on that.

This is precisely why it was my belief all the time - it remains my belief - that all of these issues are best deliberated and decided on at the tribunal. We are now in a rarified and frenzied atmosphere - as the Deputy has conceded - of rumours, whispers, innuendo and allegations, many of which are completely untrue. All of this will be determined in early course by the tribunal. That is why, as I have said, I do not believe it is in good order for Dáil Éireann to conduct what might be described as a parallel process that does not serve anybody. These issues should be left - in their entirety - to the tribunal of inquiry.

Three and a half years ago, Garda Nick Keogh made a complaint about Garda involvement in the drug trade in the Minister's constituency. Shortly after that, he made another report about harassment and bullying. One report seems to be incomplete and the other seems to have been buried somewhere. Nick Keogh's solicitor has written directly to the Minister on a number of occasions since he assumed his position. Deputy Clare Daly and I wrote to the Taoiseach about the investigation into harassment and bullying. This was passed on to the Minister, but we have not heard anything back about it. The Minister has not responded to any of these communications. I wonder why that is the case. What does he intend to do about it? Does the Minister think he has full authority in the Department? If he is telling us that information in the possession of journalists and members of the Opposition has not been forthcoming to him, is that not subversion? What has he done about it?

I am considering the further steps that I, as Minister for Justice and Equality, can and will take in order to ensure that the events of recent weeks do not take place again. There are important lessons to be learned. We should look at this in the context of the overall review of the Department of Justice and Equality, which has been under way for some time and which will now be accelerated. I do not think it is reasonable for us to enter into a debate now on the specific Garda case referred to by Deputy Wallace. I would be happy to communicate with the Deputy at a very early date. I am aware of the file and I am aware of actions being taken.

We will concentrate on the issue before us.

The Minister might tell me why he has not dealt with the solicitor in this matter. Why has he not dealt with the people in the Department before now?

On 22 June last, I asked the Minister if he had "complete confidence" in the Garda Commissioner. This was over a year after we found out what had gone on at the O'Higgins commission of investigation and what Nóirín O'Sullivan had tried to do to Maurice McCabe in the context of the Mullingar meeting, whereby a story was fabricated in order to throw him under the bus. How was the Minister able to reply to me that day by saying he had "full confidence in the Garda Commissioner as she proceeds with the implementation of the most ambitious programme of reform ever embarked on by An Garda Síochána"? If the Minister thought earlier this year that Nóirín O'Sullivan was the right woman for the job, how in God's name can he be the right man to change how we do things around policing and in the Department of Justice and Equality? What is going to change? Is the Minister not part of the old school? I do not understand it. Can the Minister explain how he had 100% confidence in Nóirín O'Sullivan earlier this year?

I do not think it is fair to speak about confidence in the former Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, at this stage . It is important now that we look forward to the various reports that have been completed and to the reform process that is under way. I refer particularly to the many recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate, some of which have been implemented and many more of which will be implemented by the end of this year.

I acknowledge the importance of the Policing Authority in driving the reform - along with myself, as Minister for Justice and Equality - and that of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which was established by my predecessor before Deputy Varadkar became Taoiseach. The commission also plays a crucial role in the reform of An Garda Síochána.

So the Minister is telling us that nothing is going to change.

I thank Deputy Wallace but he has made an arrangement. Deputy Catherine Connolly has the final question.

The Minister looks forward to the results of reports. This is the famous report he refers to, the independent review which was carried out and was published on 11 July 2014. It referred to the commitment and dedication of the staff in the Department of Justice and Equality. However, it went on to highlight how they had been systematically run down and how the Department was suffering from a serious lack of corporate experience due to retirements and not taking on new staff. Most importantly, the report identified five key recommendations out of a total of eight. It commented that the Department of Justice and Equality's officials were far too deferential to An Garda Síochána. The report specifically gave timelines of three months, 12 months and two years. The review group made a very important offer. It said that it was prepared to meet twice yearly, if the Minister agreed, over the subsequent two years to monitor progress. Did the Minister read the report? Did he accept the offer of a review? Which of the recommendations contained in this independent review have been acted on?

Many of the recommendations of the Toland review have already been examined and are in the course of being implemented in the Department of Justice and Equality. In fact, there is a specific dedicated committee within the Department to oversee the implementation of the Toland report. However, having regard to the events of the past three weeks, it is important that implementation be accelerated and that a level of expertise be introduced in order to ensure that we can go beyond the recommendations of the Toland report in light of the need to accelerate the process of reform within the Department of Justice and Equality. The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has a role in this regard. I would be very happy to report to the Dáil on a quarterly basis on the implementation of the recommendations of the Toland report. We probably need more than that. That is something which I will be addressing in the Department over the course of the next few weeks.

Did the Minister accept the offer of a quarterly review?

We now move to the Rural Independent Group. The first question is from Deputy Harty.

Is the Minister satisfied that there has been full disclosure to the Charleton tribunal in respect of other whistleblowers, particularly in respect of Keith Harrison, who is specifically mentioned in the terms of reference? Will the Minister confirm whether there has been full disclosure in respect of that garda?

Having made inquiries, I assure the House that there has been full disclosure within the Department of Justice and Equality in the context of all issues in respect of which it is statutorily obliged to make disclosures. However, having regard to recent events, I would be very happy to have the Department undertake any further inquiries or further scrutiny which may be required. I have no evidence of any outstanding issues. I would be happy to raise this with senior officials in my Department tomorrow.

Senior members of An Garda Síochána have denied their involvement in any orchestrated campaign to discredit Sergeant McCabe and other whistleblowers. How will that denial, which was clearly false, be dealt with?

I do not wish to engage in any speculation as to what might or might not be the subject matter of a report of the disclosures tribunal. As I have said repeatedly in reply to parliamentary questions, in public comments and in response to any questions that have arise, it is important that this House acknowledges the importance of the disclosures tribunal. Every party and group had an opportunity to discuss the terms of reference and to add to them in any manner which was thought appropriate. I am firmly committed to ensuring that each and every piece of documentation is presented and that each and every witness attends at the tribunal. I am pleased to note the statement by Mr. Justice Charleton last Friday that the module of the tribunal dealing with Maurice McCabe will commence earlier than anticipated. There is a certain urgency and importance there. I ask everybody in the House to allow the tribunal to get on with its work. The tribunal is undertaking a very serious piece of public service work. It is important that these issues are dealt with at the tribunal in order to secure truth and justice for Sergeant McCabe and his family.

Will the scope of the external investigation announced today include an examination of the possibility of leaks from the Department of Justice and Equality to the media regarding evidence given in respect of many of the gardaí who are under investigation?

I would be very happy if that could be undertaken. However, Members will accept that it is very difficult to determine responsibility for these matters. I want to see the external investigation of the events of the past few weeks get under way at the earliest opportunity.

We will move on to the Social Democrats and the Green Party. There will be two questions from Deputy Shortall and one from Deputy Eamon Ryan.

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?

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.

Quite frankly, it is impossible to understand how the Minister could possibly have issued that press statement without having seen the email. How did the Minister have time to issue this statement when he denies all knowledge of the email?

How were the emails missed? A basic search for "McCabe" or "O'Higgins" would show them up. Can the Minister tell us whether there was a search of Deputy Fitzgerald's emails? Was there a search of the emails of her ministerial advisers? Is it the case that the people mentioned in the circulation list for these emails will now have to be interviewed or reinterviewed by the Charleton tribunal?

I want to make it quite clear, as I have said on a number of occasions, that my first sight of this email was on 20 November. While I was notified of the existence of an email, I had no opportunity to see that email, I had not had sight of it, I had not seen its content and nobody had read it to me. I had no knowledge of the detail until I saw it on 20 November.

Did the Minister have knowledge of the press statement?

I instructed my press office to issue a press statement regarding public commentary that had taken place over the previous number of days on the tribunal and on tribunal issues.

Did anyone put two and two together?

It was done in my office in Dublin. I have no knowledge of an examination of the email account of the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, or of those of any of her advisers taking place.

I assure the House that, as far as the former Minister, her advisers or anybody in my office is concerned, we will co-operate fully with the tribunal in accordance with the law and the former-----

That does not answer the question I asked.

The Minister, without interruption. The Minister has exceeded his time.

Will the Minister find out when Deputy Fitzgerald's email was sent and provide that information to the House tomorrow?

I call Deputy Eamon Ryan.

If the Minister received the email on 13 November and first read it on 20 November, on what date did he find out that it had not been sent to the Charleton tribunal? Did he ask his departmental officials why it had not been sent and, if so, what answer did they give? As a result of the fact that - this was noted by the Taoiseach earlier - the Department of Justice and Equality is included in the terms of reference of the tribunal and if, as the Minister said, the Government cannot interfere with the tribunal and must leave these issues for it to decide, would the he not agree that the failure to provide these documents was in complete breach of the requirement to treat it with respect? When did the Minister find out about the failure to provide the documents, what reason did the officials give for this and what are the consequences, if any, for the Department?

The consequences of the failure by anybody to comply with the terms of reference of the tribunal are clear: it is a breach of the law which will be investigated in early course. As regards the transmission of the email of 15 May from the office of the Secretary General to the tribunal, my understanding is that there were legal issues and issues relating to privilege. The advice of the Attorney General was sought. A number of days elapsed before it was ultimately forwarded to the tribunal, which, I understand, was done on 21 or 22 November, the Monday or Tuesday of the following week. It appears that there were certain legal issues involved and clarifications were sought and ultimately complied with.

That concludes the question-and-answer session. The Minister has five minutes in which to make his concluding remarks.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating me. I thank Members for their contributions. I hope that colleagues on all sides will appreciate that in recent days my focus has been to ensure that the instructions of the Taoiseach regarding a search and retrieval process were followed in a comprehensive way. I do not believe that any criticism can be levelled at the Taoiseach for waiting until the search had been completed before the documents were published. I acknowledge that there has been some criticism of the delay in this regard. However, I want to advise the House that I am urgently considering what further reforms I can put in place and steps I can take in order to protect members of the Garda Síochána, such as those who have been mentioned in the House not only tonight but also on previous occasions. I am also examining what form of redress is available to them if they are subjected to bullying or harassment. All of this will complement the protections for whistleblowers introduced by my predecessor.

There are stark lessons to be learned as to the manner in which the Department of Justice and Equality is engaging in the process of reform. I assure the House that I will continue to apply my best endeavours to ensure the events of the past few weeks will not reoccur. The Department of Justice and Equality must be looked at in the context of its very wide remit over a range of issues. The first task will be to ensure the appointment of a new, permanent Secretary General. I acknowledge the important work that has been undertaken by the Department of Justice and Equality notwithstanding the criticism that has been heard in the House this evening and earlier today and I am satisfied there is an appetite at every level of the Department to continue to deploy its values, which involve serving the State and its people with distinction. I will ensure that will be the priority during of my tenure in the Department of Justice and Equality.