I welcome this opportunity to put on the record of the House certain matters that have been raised in the Chamber and in the media in recent days. I am circulating separately the email that has been the subject of discussion. My objective is to put as much information as I can into the public domain while respecting the work of the Charleton tribunal.
For the benefit of all Members of the House, I again wish to put on record that there is a tribunal of inquiry, chaired by Mr. Justice Charleton, that is continuing to carry out its work. It is a judicial body, with wide terms of reference agreed by this House after thorough consultation by me, and its work should be respected.
Standing Order 59(3) of this House 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". I would ask Members of the House to consider the tribunal’s current work and its wide terms of reference before coming to conclusions. All of us must be circumspect when commenting on matters before a tribunal and, as parliamentarians, we want to be responsible in making public comment on matters covered by a sitting tribunal.
The terms of reference clearly mandate the tribunal to consider a wide range of questions, including the then Commissioner’s legal strategy. Among its 16 separate terms of reference are to investigate contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and the media and broadcasting personnel, members of the Government, Tusla, the HSE, any other State entity or any relevant person as the sole member may deem necessary to carry out his work relevant to the matters set out, and to 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 (Certain Matters Relative to the Cavan/Monaghan Division of An Garda Síochána) under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kevin O'Higgins. Members will have to agree these are very broad terms of reference which were, as I said, agreed after a lot of consultation with all Members of the Opposition. They were accepted on the night in the House. Members will have to agree that the consultation took place and that is why we have such comprehensive terms of reference.
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 time. I can only speak about my personal experience and knowledge and I must be careful not to say anything that would undermine or interfere with the work of the disclosures tribunal. Last Monday week, I confirmed to the Taoiseach that neither I nor the Department of Justice and Equality had any hand, act or part in the legal strategy 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. It outlined a conversation between an official in the Department of Justice and Equality and an official from the Office of the Attorney General, highlighting a disagreement that had arisen between the two legal teams at the commission, that is, the legal teams representing An Garda Síochána and Sergeant Maurice McCabe. 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 which had previously been made.
It is important to state that the email said that Sergeant McCabe had always denied this allegation. 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 this matter was extensively referenced on the public record in the opening days of the disclosures tribunal earlier this year - all of that is on the website. The email also references the fact that the independent review mechanism found that an investigation file on the case had been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, which had directed no prosecution.
The concluding point in the email sent to me advised that neither the Attorney General nor the Minister had a function relating to the evidence a party to a commission of investigation may present. I could have no role whatsoever 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 add that this is all the more so in circumstances where the Department of Justice and Equality was appearing before the commission and had separate legal representation, all of which is carefully documented in the final report of the O'Higgins commission.
As I said to the Taoiseach, I had no knowledge of the details which later emerged in May 2016. I learned of the details in May 2016 through media reports like everyone else. At that time, I was asked to comment on leaked transcripts. I said at the time that it would be utterly inappropriate and unfair of me to comment on such leaks. That remains the case today. I addressed this comprehensively when I spoke on the O'Higgins commission in this House and outlined the various follow-up actions that I felt were necessary because of what the O'Higgins commission had found. We entrusted a commission of investigation to look into all these matters and that is exactly what the commission did. That commission was held in private session. That protection of witnesses is pivotal to the effective operation of commissions of inquiry.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I strongly encouraged Garda management to put in place comprehensive policies and procedures for whistleblowers, including, for example, bringing Transparency International on board to advise on best practice in regard to whistleblowers. I established the Policing Authority, one of the most fundamental reforms of An Garda Síochána in the history of the State, and at all times sought to support and protect whistleblowers. I never did anything other than protect whistleblowers and make sure they were being dealt with properly within An Garda Síochána. At every opportunity I had, that was the clear point I made to Garda management.
Following the report of Mr. Justice O’Higgins, I used the powers available to me under the legislation establishing the Policing Authority to ask it 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 the very best practice. I also used the legal powers available to me to ask the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to investigate matters alleged to have occurred regarding a meeting in Mullingar involving certain officers. This emerged at a later stage. I established the Mr. Justice O'Neill review which arose in regard to protected disclosures I received as Minister.
My record speaks for itself, as does my commitment to deal with these issues in a comprehensive, committed and fair manner. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I paid tribute to the work that Sergeant Maurice McCabe had done and I met him and his wife, Lorraine, early in my tenure as Minister for Justice and Equality. In welcoming the publication of the O’Higgins commission report last year, I pointed out that Mr. Justice O'Higgins described Sergeant McCabe as a man of integrity who has performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost. He is due the gratitude not only of the public but also of An Garda Síochána and of this House.
We set up tribunals of inquiry to look at all of the evidence, hear all sides and establish the truth. Above all, everyone is entitled to basic, fair procedures enshrined in our Constitution. We need to let the tribunal of inquiry get on with the work we tasked it with doing. It is incumbent on us all to let it carry out that work.
I have sent the email around and I hope Members have received it. They will receive it very shortly. I am arranging for it to be circulated. The Taoiseach has also spoken to Sergeant McCabe in the past two hours and had a conversation with him about some of the issues in the email.