I welcome the Tánaiste and ask her to make her contribution.
Justice Matters: Statements
I welcome this opportunity to update the Seanad and put on the record of the House certain matters that have been raised in the Oireachtas and in the media in recent days. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil, I had no hand, act or part in the former Garda Commissioner's legal approach. I want to reiterate that point. The former Commissioner's legal approach was a matter for her alone and it would have been utterly inappropriate for me to interfere in that regard.
Many Members of the Oireachtas and others have suggested that I should have interfered. I have received legal advice again today from the Attorney General, who wrote to confirm that the legal position correctly conveyed from his office to the Department was that the approach to be adopted to adducing evidence by the then Garda Commissioner before the O'Higgins commission of investigation of May 2015 was a matter for the Garda Commissioner who was being legally advised separately, and that neither the Attorney General nor the Minister had a function regarding the evidence any other party, including the Garda Commissioner, to a commission of investigation might adduce. In other words, the position to be adopted before the O'Higgins commission of investigation was for the Garda Commissioner and her own legal team to decide. In fact, it would have been inappropriate and improper for me to have interfered.
The political implication of the questions asked of me in recent days is that I did not take the concerns of whistleblowers seriously. The suggestion is that I did not act to improve how An Garda Síochána dealt with the issue of whistleblowing. The suggestion is that I did not want the truth to be found. Let me be clear, I utterly reject those suggestions. Actions speak louder than words. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I pursued a programme of fundamental reform of An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality. For decades, successive Governments failed to deal with the issue of whistleblowers. I was part of the Government that sought to bring about a transformative change in approach to whistleblowers and which enacted the Protected Disclosures Act, providing, for the first time, comprehensive whistleblower protection across all sectors of the economy.
I have always been a hard-working, proactive Minister, never afraid to tackle the issues in the three Departments in which I have served. Nobody could credibly accuse me of being work shy. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I enacted 27 pieces of legislation, including the Marriage Equality Bill and the legislation to establish the Policing Authority, one of the most fundamental reforms of An Garda Síochána in the history of the State.
The treatment of whistleblowers was always a priority on my desk as Minister for Justice and Equality. I was always scrupulously careful about the lines I could not cross. I shared the outrage that other Members of this House expressed when I read about the alleged treatment of some whistleblowers, but as Minister for Justice and Equality I always had to proceed on the principles of natural justice.
I strongly encouraged Garda management to put in place comprehensive policies and procedures for whistleblowers during my tenure as justice Minister, including bringing Transparency International on board to advise on best practice in relation to whistleblowers. I accepted and acted on the recommendations in the Guerin report by going to Government and establishing the O’Higgins commission. I acted on the findings of the O'Higgins commission. I used the powers available to me under the legislation establishing the Policing Authority to ask the authority to conduct a detailed examination of the procedures and policies around whistleblowing in An Garda Síochána and to prepare a report on the matter, including any recommendations necessary to ensure those arrangements operated to best practice. I also used the legal powers available to me to ask the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to investigate mutters alleged to have occurred in relation to a meeting in Mullingar involving certain officers. I drove the establishment of the disclosures tribunal, working with officials in the Department of Justice and Equality, the Office of the Attorney General and with all Members of the Oireachtas. I empowered the tribunal with wide-ranging terms of reference so the truth could emerge. This is my record, and I stand over it.
When the truth is revealed at the disclosures tribunal it will be because of that work from all Members of the Oireachtas. I do not believe we should be running a parallel process, though, of course, I fully respect the role of the Seanad and the Dáil.
The terms of reference clearly mandate the tribunal to consider a wide range of questions, including the then Commissioner's legal approach. Among the 16 separate terms of reference are those to: investigate contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and media and broadcasting personnel, members of the Government, Tusla, the Health Service Executive, any other State entities or any relevant person as the sole member might deem necessary to carry out his work relevant to the matters set out; and investigate whether the false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by Commissioner O’Sullivan to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Commission of Investigation into Certain Matters in the Cavan-Monaghan district under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kevin O’Higgins. Members will have to agree these are very broad terms of reference indeed, agreed after much consultation with the Opposition.
I will endeavour this evening to shed as much light as possible on what I and the Department of Justice and Equality knew, and at what lime. I can only speak from my personal experience and knowledge, and I must be careful under law not to say anything that would undermine or interfere with the work of the disclosures tribunal.
On the Monday before last, I confirmed to the Taoiseach that neither I nor the Department of Justice and Equality had any hand, act or part in the legal approach of the former Commissioner. In that phone conversation, I also confirmed to the Taoiseach that I only became aware of the broad details dealt with in the commission when they came into the public domain in May 2016. Last Thursday, the Department of Justice and Equality informed me that an email had been located. It had been sent to me late in the afternoon of 15 May 2015. This email, which I released publicly last night, outlined a conversation between an official in the Department of Justice and Equality and an official from the Office of the Attorney General, highlighting that a disagreement had arisen between the two legal teams at the commission. The email indicated that counsel for An Garda Síochána had raised, during the hearings, an allegation of a serious criminal complaint against Sergeant Maurice McCabe that had previously been made.
It is important to state that the email had said that Sergeant McCabe had always denied this allegation. The email states that counsel for Sergeant McCabe objected to this issue being raised and asked whether the Garda Commissioner had authorised this approach. The Garda Commissioner’s authorisation was confirmed, although it was understood separately that that might be subject to further legal advice.
It should be noted that extensive reference has been made to this matter on the public record in the opening days of the disclosures tribunal earlier this year. The email also states that the independent review mechanism found that an investigation file on the case had been submitted to the DPP, who had directed no prosecution. I put on the record of the Dáil last night, and the Taoiseach did so again today, that he had spoken with Sergeant McCabe and had had some disagreement over the contents of the email.
The concluding point in the email sent to me advised that neither the Attorney General nor the Minister has a function relating to the evidence a party to a commission of investigation may present. I could have no role whatsoever, then, in questioning or in any way seeking to influence the evidence another party gave to a commission of investigation or any legal argument made by such a person. I might also add that this is all the more so the case in circumstances where the Department of Justice and Equality was appearing before the commission itself with regard to issues that had arisen in the Guerin report and which were being followed up by the O'Higgins commission. It had separate legal representation at that commission and clearly there could be no contact between the legal counsels representing individual members of the Department of Justice and Equality and counsel representing a separate legal strategy for the Garda Commissioner.
As Minister for Justice and Equality I paid tribute to the work that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has done and I met Sergeant McCabe and his wife, Lorraine, early in my tenure. In welcoming the publication of the O’Higgins commission of investigation last year I made a very comprehensive speech and pointed out that Mr. Justice O’Higgins described Sergeant McCabe as a man of integrity who had performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost. He is due the gratitude, not only of the general public, but also of An Garda Síochána and of this House. We set up tribunals of inquiry to look at all the evidence, hear all sides, and establish what the truth is. Above all, everyone is entitled to basic, fair procedures enshrined in our Constitution.
I thank the Tánaiste. The main spokesperson for each group now has six minutes to contribute. I will be sticking to this rigidly because the Tánaiste will be called back at 7.55 p.m.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I also thank the Tánaiste for coming to the Chamber tonight. Her statement, along with her statement to the Dáil and the answers she gave to questions raised in the Dáil last night, are far from satisfactory. I hope that we will get more information in response to the questions asked by myself and by my Seanad colleagues tonight because, as things currently stand, we have more questions than answers.
The Tánaiste released the transcript of an email last night. Why was the email itself not released? The transcript alone is not satisfactory, as the Tánaiste knows. If this were a court of law, and on foot of an order of discovery, then the release of a transcript would not be considered sufficient. The Tánaiste should be able to release the email with whatever necessary redactions made.
The phrase "no hand, act or part" has been repeated ad nauseam over the past few days. It is clear to everyone that the Tánaiste, by failing to act on foot of the information supplied to her as Minister for Justice and Equality, agreed to and actually allowed this adversarial strategy to be implemented. She allowed the Garda Commissioner and her legal team to use information that had actually been disproved by the independent review mechanism and by the DPP so as to discredit Sergeant McCabe's reputation. That is a fact. By failing to act on this information the Tánaiste actually agreed with it.
From that point in May 2015 right up to May 2016 she fully supported the Garda Commissioner. When she referred to the O'Higgins commission in the Dáil on 17 May of this year, she said that the commission was inquisitorial rather than adversarial in nature. Prior to that, however, she had been informed of the actual strategy which was, as is clear from the email, certainly adversarial rather than inquisitorial, as she claimed. The Tánaiste was fully aware of that. She claimed that she had forgotten receiving the email and did not act when she was informed of this scandalous strategy. The fact that she did not act, did not see fit to act, and failed to remember getting the email is utterly incredible, particularly considering that she had been appointed Minister for Justice and Equality because the previous Minister had had to resign over this issue. Surely alarm bells should have rung in the Tánaiste's head when she saw this email coming in and if they did not then we really have to call her judgment on this matter into question. She says that she was not aware of this until it came into the public domain but that is clearly not the case.
With regard to the email itself, why was it not found before now and why was it not forwarded to the Charleton commission? Are there other emails? What searches of remaining emails has the Department of Justice and Equality carried out since the Tánaiste's departure from that office? Would this email ever have been found were it not for Deputy Alan Kelly and "Prime Time" digging around to get it?
The Tánaiste was in charge of policy at the Department of Justice and Equality at the time and the Garda Commissioner was answerable to her, so serious questions arise now over the Tánaiste's lack of judgment. This email was not submitted to the Charleton inquiry until yesterday. Why was it not submitted when the Tánaiste found it last week? She allowed the Taoiseach mislead the Dáil and it took several days before he was actually informed of this email, something the Tánaiste has yet to adequately explain. She has said that she was abroad and that the Taoiseach was abroad, but the Department officials were here and I am sure that the Tánaiste is in contact with the Taoiseach when she is out of the country. I hope that she will be able to answer some of my questions and those of my colleagues.
I call on Senator Boyhan. He has six minutes.
I welcome the Tánaiste and former Minister for Justice and Equality. I want to start with the line "parallel process". Why are we having a parallel process when we have the Charleton tribunal? Based perhaps on the arithmetic of these Houses, there is a sense here of Members vying for political blood and for heads on a plate and this is neither fair, right, nor appropriate. It is questionable why we are allowing both Houses a parallel process when we already have a commission of investigation, namely, the Charleton tribunal. We belly-ached both here and in the Lower House for a tribunal. We got it, and we got the terms of reference, and yet now we want to interfere in the process of that tribunal. This is fundamentally wrong. I have no allegiance to any of the party political groups in this House but I find it fundamentally and grossly wrong and unfair to undermine this tribunal and allow a parallel process. As democrats and as politicians we should not do this.
This is worth saying because it is what I fundamentally believe. The Tánaiste is well-regarded, well-respected and an experienced Deputy, former Senator and Minister. She has clearly set that out. She has come to this House and explained her position. She said, critically, that last Monday she confirmed to the Taoiseach that neither she nor the Department of Justice and Equality "had any hand, act or part" in the legal approach or strategy of the former Garda Commissioner. I accept that because this is a matter of accepting people. Nobody comes in here to this House to deliberately mislead us. Let us accept those who come before us. If they are then proven wrong or if a tribunal of inquiry comes up with other findings then we will deal with them then, but not before then. This, I think, is worth saying.
Issues have come out of this, however, over how every Department deals with the flagging of emails. This is a real issue. I know myself that I do not see every email that comes into my office every day, and I am only a mere Senator in the basement of LH2000. The very nature of our work places huge demands upon us.
These are critical emails that clearly were important and the Tánaiste's officials would have been aware of them. We need assurances on how matters of this nature will be addressed in the future.
I commend Sergeant Maurice McCabe who is a force for justice, accountability and fair play. He has suffered. He has shone a light on many dark places. He has done this State a great service and has played a meaningful role.
Let us be careful in what we say. Let us allow the tribunal of inquiry that we sought to establish complete its job, as per its terms of reference, and deliver its report. If wrongdoing is identified in that report, then let us have a debate and seek to remedy such wrongdoing. Let due process take its course and let us not have a parallel investigation that undermines a tribunal established by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I welcome the Tánaiste. I have known her since the early 1990s. Anybody who would have the cheek to question her integrity is not doing the Houses of the Oireachtas any service. She is a woman of the highest integrity. She pioneered women's rights in the 1980s and 1990s when it was not popular to do so and when it was a big challenge to do so.
What does that have to do with it?
Much of what we heard from the Opposition in the past 24 hours has been quite unsavoury. That continued this evening with Senator Clifford-Lee, who should reflect on her contribution, which was quite outrageous. It is totally inappropriate for her to suggest that the Tánaiste created some sort of scenario that allowed Sergeant Maurice McCabe to be smeared, slurred or whatever.
She did not stop it.
The Tánaiste certainly did not allow anything of the sort to happen. The email in question clearly states that she had no role or function in the matter. Had the Tánaiste given any kind of a direction to anybody on the commission of inquiry, the Opposition would rightly have something to say. The Opposition cannot have its bread buttered on both sides. The bottom line is that the Tánaiste acted appropriately. It is shocking and distasteful that the Opposition is pulling one or two lines out of an email in which it is clearly stated that the Tánaiste had no function or role to play. I ask somebody to explain when black and white is not black and white, because the position here is clearly obvious.
As Senator Boyhan rightly said, for the past 24 hours we have seen an unusual and bizarre chase for political blood where it is totally and utterly inappropriate.
The Tánaiste has never done anything inappropriate in her professional life. As Tánaiste, Minister, Deputy and Senator, she has served the public, through her hard work, with dignity, integrity, and determination. She quite rightly outlined what she did when Minister for Justice and Equality in order to ensure that we could see that there was transparency, justice and an appropriate development of the facts. What more can an individual do?
I find some of the commentary in both of these Houses quite distasteful. Until this evening, that type of distasteful commentary more so marked the debate in the Lower House. There comes a point when one has to ask natural justice. The Tánaiste was in Boston representing the country with dignity in recent days. As soon as she got back, even though she is no longer Minister for Justice and Equality, she made available whatever emails that were necessary to be passed on to the tribunal of inquiry, even though, from looking at the relevant email, she had no role or function whatsoever. That needs to be reiterated.
We live in a society that is fair. The people who are watching in tonight are reasonable and fair. Anybody who engages in a fair assessment of what the Opposition has been doing over the past 24 hours will judge it for what it is - skulduggery.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Tánaiste as a bheith linn. She is very understandably facing many inquiries on foot of the manner in which she responds to questions she is being asked about this very serious issue in the context of what she knew about the denigration of the whistleblower, Sergeant McCabe. I say to Senator Conway that nobody is calling anything else into question. Effectively, the Tánaiste's failure to answer satisfactorily the questions that have been asked is undermining her judgment, competence and credibility. She has clearly failed to convince the public that she cannot remember whether she read the email. It is, of course, inconceivable that she did not know in May 2014 of the malicious criminal complaint against Sergeant McCabe.
Did the Tánaiste's departmental officials brief her about Sergeant McCabe? Was she aware of the documents that the then Taoiseach was given by Deputy Micheál Martin regarding allegations against Sergeant McCabe? If not, why was she not aware of them? The email, the Tánaiste says she cannot remember reading, refers to the malicious complaint and its use as part of the legal strategy of the then Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, to denigrate the sergeant despite these allegations having been disproven and not pursued by the DPP. On mature reflection, does she recall any clearer now that she did, in fact, read the email?
The Tánaiste said that actions speak louder than words. Let us reflect on some of her actions. Despite having misinformation, despite having read this email and knowing what has been pursued by the legal team of the former Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, what did the Tánaiste do? She told the Taoiseach that she did not know about the former Commissioner's malicious legal strategy to undermine Sergeant McCabe before his cross-examination by the commission on 18 May 2015. However, the sensational email sent to her, which she conveniently says she cannot remember reading, is dated 15 May, three days before the cross-examination. In her opening remarks, she has told us again of everything she has done for whistleblowers during her tenure as Minister, but upon mature reflection and looking at the evidential facts put before us, what did she do for whistleblowers in this instance?
On mature reflection, would the Tánaiste now like to revisit her memory while she has the opportunity here in the Seanad and correct these contradictory accounts on the floor of this House? As other colleagues stated, why did it take over two years before this sensational email was uncovered? I suggest to Senator Boyhan, who is no longer here, this is the reason we find ourselves having this debate. It took almost three years before the email was uncovered.
We are told that, on his appointment, Mr. Justice O'Neill was provided with all the relevant documentation. I presume that the Charleton tribunal was also provided with all the relevant documentation. However, this elusive email has not surfaced with Mr. Justice O'Neill or the Charleton tribunal. Why did the sensational email not surface on both these occasions? Was the email contained as part of all the relevant documentation and if not, why? If it was, why did it lie dormant and its importance overlooked until now? Who first informed the Taoiseach about the email? Was it the Tánaiste? When did the current Minister for Justice and Equality find out about the email?
Nobody really enjoys this type of event. We do this because we are dealing with a very serious issue and because there are very serious issues in this country. We have the highest number of people sleeping rough on record, a health crisis, issues in education and Brexit. We do these things because we need to know that the second most important politician in the land is up to the job. The Tánaiste is a senior Minister at Cabinet and was previously the Minister for Justice and Equality. We need to be very careful to split the personal from the political.
The Tánaiste came to the Department of Justice and Equality shortly before I did - as her Minister of State - when it was completely reeling following the resignation of the previous Minister associated with this issue, the resignation - we will say he resigned - of the previous Garda Commissioner and the resignation of the Secretary General of the Department.
The Toland report is damning on the culture in the Department of Justice and Equality. Notwithstanding all of the issues I referenced earlier, there is no greater political controversy than the ongoing issue of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his treatment. In her opening statement, the Tánaiste referenced her great achievements in the Department of Justice and Equality, which is fair enough. I would contend, however, that the Labour Party had huge influence in the justice area in terms of the whistleblower legislation, the establishment of the Policing Authority and the freedom of information legislation. Notwithstanding all that is stated in the Toland report in regard to the Department of Justice and Equality, including that it has a silo culture, and all of the resignations outlined, the Tánaiste's best defence in regard to the email in question is that it was not stated therein that she was required to do anything. Given the culture of the Department of Justice and Equality, one wonders who was running the show.
The Department of Justice and Equality is an interesting animal. It is located in a building which has reinforced bullet-proof windows. Those who work there walk with a certain swagger and consider themselves to be very important. The Department has a huge budget and it deals with issues of security and law and order. The vast bulk of legislation that goes through the Houses of the Oireachtas comes from the Department of Justice and Equality. Those who work there take themselves quite seriously. When one is in a ministerial role in that Department one has to be aware of their reputation. The Tánaiste would have been aware of this reputation because she read the Toland report. It was given to her soon after her appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality and so she knew the reputation of the Department staff. The Tánaiste received an email and her reaction was that she did not need to take any action. That is pretty damning. We are governed by the political entity that is Fine Gael and a number of Independents, which I do not believe has the capacity to deal with the serious issues we face.
On three separate occasions this week the Department of Justice and Equality has provided information to the Taoiseach which required him to correct the record of the Dáil. It is important not to mix the personal with the political in this matter. I feel sorry for the Fine Gael Members because I was that soldier. When Minister of State, I had to read speeches confirming confidence in the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and various other Ministers who were in trouble. When Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in government and a Fine Gael Minister was in trouble, Labour Party backbenchers' phones would be ringing off the hook but when a Labour Party Minister was in trouble Labour Party backbencher'' phones were off the hook. It is remarkable that the Independent Alliance Ministers are not on record supporting the Tánaiste. I would be interested to know, beyond the spokesperson from the Independent Alliance, where they stand on this matter.
The Department of Justice and Equality has had oversight of huge change in the justice area. It brought down two Garda Commissioners and a former Minister for Justice and Equality. It could be said that it effectively led to the Taoiseach being toppled. The Tánaiste's best response in regard to the email she received is that she was told it was no big deal. Given the seriousness of the situation surrounding Sergeant Maurice McCabe this indicates either a lack of interest or competence to deal with the most serious political issue of our day. The response of the Tánaiste, as the second most senior politician in this land, leaves a huge amount to be desired.
I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. Senator Ó Ríordáin should never apologise for Fine Gael Senators. We are here to support our Minister, who is a reforming Minister, who has done nothing wrong and who had the zeal to do what was not mentioned by Senator Ó Ríordáin. Her best defence is the establishment of the tribunal by her in a coalition Government and the introduction of approximately 27 pieces of legislation. I will not take lectures about the high moral ground from people who can come in here without any responsibility. As Members of this House, our purpose is to get to the truth of matters. The purpose of the tribunal is to get to the truth. That tribunal was initiated by this Minister and no other Minister. Lest Members have forgotten, the Tánaiste has not been Minister for Justice and Equality for a number of months now. The Toland report was initiated by the Tánaiste. The Department of Justice and Equality and not the Tánaiste must answer for matters relating to the Department.
As I said earlier on the Order of Business, all of us have an obligation and duty to get to the truth for Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family. In this regard we either have process and substance, or we can have a media witch hunt, political blood letting or the calls for a head, which the Labour Party is particularly good at doing. We all remember what it did previously. What is important is that the Department of Justice and Equality is reformed. The Government and the Tánaiste should not cross the line in this matter.
I refer the House to the Tánaiste's remarks in her opening statement that the legal advice from the Attorney General's office was that it would be wrong for her to interfere in the legal approach being taken by the Garda. Had she done so, we would be having a different debate now. The hypocrisy is on one side. The Tánaiste is trying to establish the facts in terms of her role as Minister for Justice and Equality. It is the Government that is putting information in the ether. In regard to the question posed in some of the remarks made in this House, it was the first opportunity she got on her return to provide the information. We have nothing to hide. The Taoiseach is on record that Sergeant McCabe is a decent, honourable man and in regard to the need to get to the truth. On this side of the House, there is nothing to hide. We want to know all the facts. The Tánaiste, under the coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party in government, initiated the whistleblower legislation. I will give credit to the Labour Party for being a good partner in government. However, I will not accept Senator Ó Ríordáin's remarks about the Tánaiste's best defence being X. The Tánaiste's record of achievement in government, in terms of her being a reforming Minister, is available for all to see.
Has anybody here read the email? The last line states that neither the Attorney General nor the Minister has any function relating to the evidence that a party to a commission of investigation may adduce.
Why then was the Tánaiste being informed about it?
Senator Conway asked the question, "When is black and white not black and white?" If the Tánaiste had done anything different the high moral ground being taken be some people would be different. They would be singing a different tune. There is no issue in respect of the Tánaiste. I have known her for over 20 years. As an individual and as a Minister her only motivation is to serve the people and to do right. As stated by Senator Boyhan it is time that we, as a country, accept the process that is the tribunal rather than a process in which we are all undermined.
I will be brief as a lot of what I had intended to say has been said by Senators Boyhan, Buttimer and Conway. The Tánaiste has served this country well whether in opposition or in government. She has always been above board in every action that she has taken.
On this matter it was quiet clear she had no role whatever in what is now being alleged against her. I think it is wrong that we are now having, as Senator Boyhan said, a parallel inquiry going on which is wrong. We have a process in place. It is about getting the truth and making sure that there is a fair and accurate report of how Maurice McCabe and his family were so wrongly treated. I think that is the crux of what we have to get to the end of, to make sure that there is fairness and that there is truth and to make sure that he gets justice for the wrongs that he suffered. It is important that the Tánaiste, since she became Minister for justice, made sure that all the t's were crossed and the i's dotted, to make sure that would happen. That is what she has done while she was Minister for justice and that is what is important here. Everything that was done she did above board and in accordance with the obligations that she had as Minister. She did nothing to interfere with any of the inquires that were in the process of trying to establish the truth in this matter.
I call Senator Ó Clochartaigh. The Senator has four minutes.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Cuirim fáilte roimhe i gcónaí agus beidh fáilte roimhe i gcónaí teacht ar an Teach seo. Ó thaobh an comhoibriú a bhí agam leis an Aire ar go leor ceisteanna agus é sa Roinn Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais, fuair mé é an-oibleagáideach go deo.
As a Minister I have always had the height of respect for Deputy Fitzgerald. I respect the fact that she has come into this House and she is discussing the issues. I do think we are getting dragged off on tangents to a certain extent. There are some fundamental questions that do really need to be answered. It is very important that the full content of the email that was received is released so that all of it can be seen. I do not think it is credible and I do not think most people looking at, listening to or observing this scenario feel that it is credible that in the context of a commission dealing with the concerns relating to the most high profile whistleblowers in the State, and one of the biggest issues in the Department, the Minister cannot remember being made aware of this strategy in May 2015. This revelation raises the question as to whether the Department of justice and the Deputy were aware for a whole year of the legal strategy to smear Sergeant McCabe and did nothing. That is the question because as a Minister for justice she did come into this House, she was on the Plinth, she was at Oireachtas committees and she was in the Dáil defending Garda Commissioner O'Sullivan to the hilt, full confidence in her, as were all of her Fine Gael colleagues. To think that she would have known that this was happening and that she still went out to defend her, those are the actions that we are calling into question. They are the ones that we want to draw attention to tonight.
We also need to seek clarity as to what the Minister knew, when she knew it, and who told her. What about the rest of the people in the Department of justice? Can the Minister tell us who else knew about this email? Who released it? Why was it kept under wraps for so long? Why was it not sent to the different commissions? We need full disclosure of all the relevant documents and communications on this specific issue.
Are there going to be more documents found in the back of boxes somewhere in the Department of justice? I refer to the track record of the Department of justice. In fairness to the Leader, it has had a lot of very serious questions asked of it in recent years. We have seen the resignation of two senior officials in that Department. We have seen a Garda Commissioner go over different issues in the Department of justice so its track record is certainly questionable and one cannot deny that there have been questions about the plausibility of some of the evidence that has been given.
We want to know who else in the Department knew about the strategy. Is the Tánaiste aware of other people in the Department who were aware of the strategy? What action did they take on foot of this information because if the email was there somebody surely read it somewhere. Somebody gave the Minister direction that she did not need to do anything about it. Surely, that person's motivations need to be questioned as well in this scenario. Why, when it became apparent last Thursday that an email was received, was it not disclosed immediately rather than a very good journalist having to drag the statement out of the Department of justice? That is a key question that is being asked. Publishing that email is a matter of urgency. We have the height of respect for the Minister as a person but these are very serious and fundamental questions about the way our country is being run and about the role of one of the most senior Ministers in the Government. These are very serious questions that do need to be asked and we have not been given credible answers to date.
I call on the Tánaiste.
I would like to thank the Senators for the range of issues they have raised here tonight.
First of all a number of Senators have raised this question in relation to the email. The full email has been published. I took the decision last night. I circulated it before I spoke in the Dáil. That is the full email. There is nothing being kept back. That is the full email. I do not know where this idea has come from that we have not published the full email. Everything that was in the email is available on the public record. That is the first point that I want to make.
The second issues arises around the fact that I did not interfere with the legal strategy of the Garda Commissioner. If I had done that, as a number of Senators have said, I would be here answering very different questions. I would be answering questions about why I had acted illegally. I am surprised at a number of Senators who have made the point that I should have interfered or done something about the legal strategy. It was not my role. Any barrister or solicitor will tell one, as the Attorney General told me again today again, that there was no role for my former Department or myself getting involved in the legal strategy of the Garda Commissioner. That is absolutely clear.
However, then to go on and suggest that because I did not cross that boundary inappropriately and did not take action regarding whistleblowers, that I did not take initiatives to make sure that whistleblowers were dealt with in the best possible way by An Garda Síochána, is completely inaccurate. One does not follow the other which is what people are implying. What I have tried to point out tonight in my contribution is the range of actions that I took to deal with how whistleblowers were being dealt with in An Garda Síochána, to improve the way that they were being dealt with, and anytime issues came up to see that they were dealt with appropriately, with new procedures and new practices. The Garda Commissioner was the person who invited in Transparency International for advice, again to try to bring independence and objectivity to how whistleblowers were being dealt with within An Garda Síochána.
Clearly, every time issues were brought to my attention about whistleblowers they were raised with me by the Department and indeed with the management of An Garda Síochána. Any time that an issue was raised where, for example, Deputies expressed concerns about the way whistleblowers were being dealt with, I would always raise those issues. To say that because I did not get involved in the legal strategy was in some way to then imply that I did not act on the issues in relation to whistleblowers, is completely inaccurate. What I told the Taoiseach and what the Taoiseach told the Dáil, namely, that I had no hand, act nor part in the legal strategy, I repeat here again tonight. That is accurate. That is truthful.
The information in relation to the email and when it was brought to my attention is truthful. It was last Thursday. The Department had not found that email previously. When I was told of that last Thursday, the Department of justice informed me that it was searching its database to see if there was any other relevant information and it was taking legal advice on the contents of the email and it would revert to me. I have been asked this question, it would revert to me when it had that legal advice. I took the first opportunity to make that information available to the Taoiseach. Then it was placed on the record of the Dáil as Members know and the way the issues have unfolded this week.
A number of points have been made about the fact that I said that I did not remember getting that email. I got thousands of emails. I have made every effort to read every email. I do not remember reading that email as I said but it is likely that I read it. I did not remember it when I was speaking to the Taoiseach and I was subsequently informed of it.
When I told the Taoiseach that the first time I heard of the issues that came out was in May 2016, that was accurate. I did not know about the questioning of witnesses, the meeting in Mullingar or the way in which Garda witnesses were being dealt with. That was all news to me, and that is what I was referring to when I spoke to the Taoiseach. Then this email was found subsequently and was brought to my attention.
I wish to take up a point one of the Senators made, namely, that the only defence I am using is that the email said I should not get involved in any way. That is not correct. I am saying I did not get involved in dealing with the legal approach which, by the way, is still to be determined by the Charleton tribunal. The Charleton tribunal is examining the Garda Commissioner's approach, and no doubt information will be put on the record of the Charleton tribunal and it will make a determination on the question it was asked to answer about the legal strategy of the Garda Commissioner.
In whom the Tánaiste had confidence.
That question is yet to be fully determined in the Charleton tribunal.
As for not remembering, when one gets an email that specifically says "This is for information only" and so on, regarding the legal strategy, that has a different significance. I acted on all the issues that came up about whistleblowing and I put that on the record of the House tonight. I hope Senators will accept that all my actions showed that I took the issue of whistleblowing very seriously when I was Minister for Justice and Equality.
The Tánaiste had full confidence in the Commissioner all the way through.
That concludes the statements. When is it proposed to sit again?
Amárach ar 10.30 a.m.