Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said there is no question of the Government interfering in the work of the Smithwick Tribunal.

Responding to accusations in letters from Judge Peter Smithwick that he interfered with the Smithwick Tribunal's work, the minister said there cannot be open ended tribunals sitting in secret in this State, spending taxpayers money with no accountability to the houses of the Oireachtas.

The minister said the Smithwick Tribunal had been in existence since 2005 and cost €8m when he became minister. He said the Goverment wanted to ascertain what the position was.

Interim report | Correspondence

He said he was concerned that there be public transparency and an interim report be made to the Houses of the Oireachtas which came today.

Mr Shatter also rejected the judge's view that witnesses would not co-operate with the tribunal because the impression was given that it would soon be wound up, saying the tribunal is sitting and the judge has being getting co-operation.

He said he has the greatest faith in Judge Smithwick and the work of the tribunal, and that if the tribunal needs additional time in October it will be considered by the Government.

In a series of strongly worded letters, the judge has accused Minister Shatter of 'spin' when he announced that the tribunal would have to finish all public hearings and have a final report by 30 November.

He said this statement was issued without any prior notice and was 'singularly ill-advised'.

The judge described it as a 'wholly inappropriate attempt by the Executive to interfere with the independence of the tribunal'.

In a letter dated 27 May, Judge Smithwick said the minister's statement indicated to those interested in frustrating the work of the tribunal that they only needed to withhold co-operation for a little while longer to achieve their wishes.

He also warned it serves to discourage important witnesses from coming forward.

'I now formally and most emphatically ask you at the earliest opportunity to have the Government's decision revoked and make a public statement,' said Judge Smithwick.

In his reply, Minister Shatter rejected claims of political interference in the work of the tribunal.

However, he insisted that he would introduce the motion requiring the tribunal to finish its work by November.

He pointed out that the background to this lies in a meeting he had with the judge in May when he said Judge Smithwick indicated he should be able to complete this work by that time.

'I cannot accept the proposition that the Oireachtas requesting the Tribunal to complete its work within a timescale already accepted by you amounts to some improper use of its powers or represents interference with the work of the tribunal,' Minister Shatter stated.

He said that since the letter was marked private and confidential, he would not put it in the exchange of correspondence between them.

Fianna Fáil has accused Minister Shatter of threatening public confidence in the Smithwick Tribunal.

Justice Spokesperson Dara Calleary said the correspondent published this afternoon showed that Minister Shatter risked undermining the entire point of 'this expensive but crucial initiative'.

He said Mr Shatter still did not appear to understand the consequences of what he has been trying to do.

In a statement responding to Mr Calleary, Mr Shatter accused the TD of taking 'selective quotations from lengthy correspondence' to involve the tribunal in a political controversy.

He said he had made it clear that an extension could be sought to the deadline if work was not complete by the end of November.

Interim Report

The Interim Report of the Smithwick Tribunal has been published this eveing.

In his report Judge Smithwick has said he cannot give a definite timeframe for concluding his work as he still plans to hear from 115 further witnesses and has been informed by the British Ministry of Defence that it has documents relevant to the inquiry.

The report says the tribunal intends to sit in July, September and October.