Commissions of Investigation (Continued)

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] It is important to note that, while officials of the Department were witnesses in a later module of the commission, neither they nor their counsel were present for this part of its proceedings. Counsel for officials of the Department was not even nominated until many months later, in October 2015, and only attended during the module in which the commission investigated the action the Department had taken on foot of Sergeant McCabe's allegations.

As Deputies will be aware, in response to my direction on 22 November 2017, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality provided me with an interim report on 24 November on progress made in the search and examination of departmental records, together with a full report on the implementation of the Toland report. I subsequently received a full report on the matter, dated 27 November. The former Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, as well as the Minister for Justice and Equality were also informed of these developments by officials of the Department.

On 27 November the Department of Justice and Equality published the reports on its website, with two email threads which had been discovered in the course of the search and retrieval of records which have now been sent to the disclosures tribunal, a letter from the disclosures tribunal to the Department dated 22 November 2017 and a report setting out progress in the implementation of the Toland report. Officials in the Department have been advised to ensure that in the unlikely event further relevant records emerge, the acting Secretary General will be notified at the earliest opportunity and that they will be discovered to the disclosures tribunal without delay.

As I stated in the House on 28 November, the events of the past few days have once again exposed major gaps in the Department of Justice and Equality, including in the way important emails were not found and not sent to the disclosures tribunal during discovery. I have directed that there be an external inquiry into that failure. A senior counsel is being appointed to carry out the review as a matter of urgency. I have also stated the Government will establish an independent change implementation group to accelerate the process of reform in response to the problems within the Department identified in the Toland report.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I thank the Taoiseach for the reply and correcting the record. It was an important point.

  There is an element of denial about what is going on. I spent a period of time at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality this morning and genuinely ask the Taoiseach to ask his colleagues, Deputy Colm Brophy and Senator Martin Conway, who made good contributions about what happened. It was extraordinary. Given everything that has gone on and the information we have received through persistent questioning and with help from the media, we still have departmental officials coming to the committee to state the Department provided the information that it had been requested to provide during discovery. That is it - nothing has changed. The meeting was deeply worrying. I asked a specific question. I asked if private email addresses that potentially had been used by senior officials for departmental business and mobile phone records had been provided for the tribunal. The answer was that they had not been asked for them. I had to ask the officials to ask Mr. Justice Charleton if he wanted this information. Is that not crazy? Has anything changed? We were also told that the information provided had been provided based on the questions asked and that there might be other documentation available. In effect, they are acting as judge and jury and as a filtering system in providing information for the Charleton tribunal. The trawl has not changed anything. The culture has not changed.

  There are three specific issues. First, the way in which parliamentary questions are answered has not changed. The Taoiseach made a commitment in the Dáil that it would. I have evidence from yesterday. I am receiving far more text, but I am not getting answers in seeking facts, not speculation.

  Second, when it comes to the information being provided for the Charleton tribunal, we need a volte-face in attitude. The Department needs to provide everything. It needs to err on the side of providing too much. Information on the specific issues I have raised has not been sent.

 Third, I note that last week the Taoiseach was provided with a summary under section 41 by the acting Garda Commissioner. What is he going to do about this? It has to be acted on immediately. It is not a case of writing back and asking more questions.

  The tribunal will be live for the next couple of months and we need this unit to be dealt with. We need answers quickly because it is having a dramatic impact on the operations of the tribunal. The Taoiseach should remember that the Department has received lots of correspondence from certain witnesses who have issues and concerns about this issue, on top of the 29 parliamentary questions from me.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin A lot has happened. These questions were tabled before the events of last week. It is important that point be made because the Taoiseach has been clear that the former Tánaiste had to resign, in spite of making no errors. He has conflated two issues and formed a view that the former Tánaiste will be vindicated at the Charleton tribunal, but it is not inquiring into whether the Dáil was misled, whether information was placed before the Dáil or whether it was told the full story. That is the key point. The Taoiseach has acknowledged and I accept that he inadvertently misled the Dáil, but it was misled on this issue, not only once but twice and perhaps more. That is the core point in terms of accountability to the House and that was the challenge we faced.

The Taoiseach also acknowledged that if Deputy Alan Kelly's questions had been answered differently three or four weeks ago, we might not have ended up where we are. It is a fact that the Taoiseach has had to apologise, as has the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for failures in responding to the House. I have not received a satisfactory explanation as to why the Taoiseach, for example, was not told about the existence of the emails. Likewise, there is no explanation - I was not at the committee meeting this morning - as to why the documents were not sent to the Charleton inquiry, other than that it appears the Department was not asked for them, but that does not stack up, as was clear last weekend. There is nothing coming back by way of a rational explanation.

What happened gave rise to huge mistrust between the House and the Executive and the Department. I refer to the drip-drip emergence of documents over a period. As was clear, Deputy Alan Kelly was asking specific questions, to which there were no answers. For example, despite it being laid out for four weeks that there might not have been a phone call as no one could trace one, it was traced eventually. There was a phone call and there is a record of it in the headquarters in the Phoenix Park. It took four to five weeks to have that question answered. On reflection, it should not have taken that length of time to answer it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputy is over time.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I apologise for the length of time taken. Are we in a position to appoint the change management group or when will the Taoiseach be in a position to do so?

  On the examination to be undertaken by the external person to inquire into the reason the documents were not sent to the Charleton inquiry, is the Taoiseach in a position to name the person or indicate when the examination will commence?

  On the Toland review, is the Taoiseach concerned about the lack of speed in reforming the Department? The review is nearly two and a half years old and a lot of it did not get anywhere, although some of it did.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Minister thinks 80% of it has been done.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams As others said, many questions remain to be answered, not least about the role played by the former Tánaiste and the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in the handling of the emails debacle. I welcome the scéal that a senior counsel will carry out a review. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the senior counsel will be named? The Taoiseach has also stated he wants the inquiry to report before Christmas. Does he expect it to be completed before the Dáil rises for the Christmas recess? Will he publish the report immediately when he receives it?

The Minister has also spoken about his concerns about the size of the Department of Justice and Equality and its area of responsibility. In 2014 the Toland report stated consideration should be given to dividing the Department and that an analysis had been conducted which supported this view. How will the process be progressed? Will the change implementation group have responsibility for advancing it or will it be a matter for the Minister? Is there a timeframe in mind for its completion, if it is decided to divide the Department?

When does the Taoiseach expect the job specification for the new Garda Commissioner to be published?

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