Belfast Telegraph

Fitzgerald was ‘clear ex-Garda chief did not accuse whistleblower of malice’

The ex-minister corrected evidence she gave on Wednesday during a second day of evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal.

Former tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said she was reassured by former Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan that she did not accuse a whistleblower of being malicious.

In a second day of evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal, the ex-minister corrected evidence she gave on Wednesday that she first knew about an allegation of sex abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe in April 2014.

Revising her testimony at Dublin Castle, Mrs Fitzgerald said she did not know about the unfounded complaint until the following month when she was appointed justice minister.

“That was a mistake,” she told the tribunal.

Mrs Fitzgerald also said she was not aware of rumours circulating about the unfounded allegation against the whistleblower sergeant before she got the ministerial promotion from the Department of Children to Justice.

“My apologies. I said April. It should have been May when I was minister for justice,” she said.

The Disclosures Tribunal is investigating whether unjustified grounds were used in an attempt to discredit Sgt McCabe at the private O’Higgins Commission in 2015.

That inquiry examined the sergeant’s claims of wrongdoing among gardai in Cavan-Monaghan.

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Sergeant Maurice McCabe raised claims of wrongdoing among gardai in Cavan-Monaghan (Niall Carson/PA)

Part of the Disclosures Tribunal’s terms of reference is considering whether the false and unfounded allegation made against Sgt McCabe in 2006 was used against him.

Mrs Fitzgerald, who resigned last November over her handling of information about the whistleblower, met then Garda commissioner Ms O’Sullivan in May 2016 to discuss leaks about Sgt McCabe’s integrity and motivation being challenged at the O’Higgins Commission.

“I was clear that she had not questioned Sergeant McCabe’s integrity and had never accused him of malice and that she wanted to treat all witnesses equally,” Mrs Fitzgerald told the tribunal.

In May 2016 leaks started to emerge over the legal strategy employed by lawyers for the Garda at the O’Higgins Commission.

“There were issues out in the public arena. I wanted to put them to her,” the former minister told the tribunal.

“I was reassured – that she had not questioned his integrity, that she had not accused him of malice.”

Mrs Fitzgerald told the tribunal that she found leaks about the treatment of Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission quite disturbing.

“I was very concerned about due process for everyone,” she said.

“I thought it was quite disturbing in terms of due process.”

Mrs Fitzgerald resigned after emails dating back to 2015 were released by the Department of Justice, showing she had been notified of a controversial legal strategy to target Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

She told the tribunal: “How Sergeant McCabe was treated within the commission, I would very much see as a matter for the judge and the legal teams to deal with.

“That is where the protection of Sergeant McCabe would take place.”

The hearing continues.

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