The acting Secretary General of the Department of Justice has told Labour TD Alan Kelly that the private emails and phone records of former ministers, advisors and senior staff at the department were not included in a supplementary trawl of documents for the Disclosures Tribunal.

Oonagh McPhillips told Deputy Kelly that the Department contacted the Tribunal, on foot of a request from the Oireachtas Justice Committee in December last year, to ask what areas they should cover in the fresh trawl. 

She said what was trawled was emails and electronic files held in the department, which accounted for 30m files going back to 2012, but phone records and private emails were not covered. 

"This trawl took place under guidance from the Tribunal, we had an engagement with them," she said. 

Deputy Kelly asked for confirmation that private email and phone records of all senior people in the department, the Minister and her advisors were not gone through.

"I can confirm what the deputy is asking about were not covered by the trawl," she said. 

However, Ms McPhillips warned that they could be trespassing on the Tribunal, as the Tribunal did ask some organisations for their phone records, but they did not ask the Department of Justice for their phone records. 

In her opening statement, Ms McPhillips noted that an independent review of the response of the department to requests for documents from the Disclosures Tribunal found that there was "no attempt to conceal information from the Tribunal and that officials acted at all times in good faith."

'It is also reassuring that the review found no evidence of any failure to comply with orders from the Tribunal," she added.

The Disclosures Tribunal is examining whether the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan inappropriately relied on unjustified grounds to discredit whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

Former Minister Frances Fitzgerald found herself at the centre of a political storm late last year over whether she read emails detailing an alleged strategy to attack the credibility of Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission. 

PAC seeks report on DoJ spending of €3.89m on unused building

The Public Accounts Committee has also sought a full report on how the Department of Justice spent €3.89m on a building in the centre of Dublin which was never used.

The building on Wolfe Tone Street in Dublin city, was to be used by the Probation Service, and was leased and fitted out, but could not be used after it was discovered the building did not have planning permission for that purpose.

The matter was the subject of an investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2011, and was the subject of a legal settlement in 2016.

It appears on the Department's 2017 accounts which are being examined by the Public Accounts Committee today. 

The Acting Secretary General of the Department of Justice Oonagh McPhillips explained that several months into the fit-out, Dublin City Council had informed them that planning permission was not in place on the building for office use.

The committee was told that the cost of cancelling the lease was €1.8m, the cost of the fit-out was €1.068m, and around €1m had been paid in rent and VAT, totaling €3.89m.

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell queried the €1.068m paid on the fit-out which began on the building in January 2010 and stopped in March 2010 when notification of the planning difficulty arose.

"You spent €1.068m in 60 days? It's not physically possible, unless you were wallpapering it in gold," she said.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said it was bizarre that the legal advise given to the department was to sign the lease when there was no planning in place. 

The committee was told that the department relied on legal advice from the Chief State Solicitors office. 

The Chair of the Committee, Fianna Fáil TD Seam Fleming, described it as "one of the most egregious waste of money" that had ever come before the committee and asked for a complete report on the issue.

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Alwyard asked if this could happen again and was assured by Ms McPhillips that it could not.