Former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald has told the Disclosures Tribunal that she made a conscious decision not to interfere with the O'Higgins Commission as it would have been inappropriate.

The tribunal is examining whether the former garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan inappropriately relied on unjustified grounds to discredit whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the private inquiry.

As it happened: Disclosures Tribunal

Two months after resigning from cabinet, Ms Fitzgerald was at Dublin Castle to explain her handling of Sgt McCabe.

Ms Fitzgerald said she first heard about the historical sexual assault allegation made against the sergeant in April 2014 - one month before she took over as justice minister.

In October that year, she met the whistleblower and his wife Lorraine at his request. She wanted to know first hand his experiences of how his complaints were dealt with.

She also raised with the former garda commissioner O'Sullivan, the supports in place to deal with Sgt McCabe's workplace issues.

She said she had no reason to doubt they would continue and she did not consider whether the garda Commissioner might act differently in private.

Regarding the May 2015 Department of Justice email detailing a row at the O'Higgins Commission, Ms Fitzgerald said she obviously read it, but it would have been inappropriate for her to interfere in the work of a private commission.

She said she viewed the hearings as private and independent, and the issues would be worked through at the commission.

Ms Fitzgerald said the email outlined there was no function for her in relation to the matter.

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She told the tribunal she did not discuss or consider discussing the matter with any department officials or any of her special advisors or the then garda commissioner.

Asked if it was not clear that there was an intent to raise an issue outside the terms of reference and perhaps question Sgt McCabe's motivation, she said it was a matter for the commission and the judge.

She said the email was confusedly written but she did not believe she should have any further discussions to find out what was happening at the private hearings. 

Counsel for the tribunal put it to Ms Fitzgerald that the upshot was she decided she did not need to consult anyone or be advised do anything; just to leave matters as they stood.

Ms Fitzgerald said she would frame it differently and that she had made a conscious decision not to interfere.

The emergence of the email last year ultimately led to the resignation of Ms Fitzgerald from cabinet.

Earlier she told the tribunal she resigned to avoid a general election

Her evidence will continue tomorrow.

The 2006 complaint of sexual assault made against Sgt McCabe by Ms D had been dismissed by the DPP as not constituting an offence.

Ms Fitzgerald said she later became more aware when her predecessor, Alan Shatter, made a Dáil speech in June 2014 which referenced the adequacy of the investigation.

Ms Fitzgerald said she met Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in July 2014 regarding Ms D's call for an examination of the garda investigation.

Earlier that year, Mr Martin had passed the dossier of complaints from Sgt McCabe to the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny and these had been examined by SC Seán Guerin.

Mr Guerin recommended the establishment of a Commission of Investigation to examine some of the complaints and this became the O'Higgins Commission.

Ms Fitzgerald said she resigned last November to avoid a general election because of the circumstances of the time.

Earlier, the tribunal heard Ms Fitzgerald was notified about a GSOC report into a garda investigation of a complaint against Sgt McCabe, days after an email was sent to her indicating that matters relating to the investigation had been raised at O’Higgins.

Martin Power, Principal Officer at the Department of Justice, was one of a number of officials who received an email on 15 May 2015 about a dispute that had arisen at the O’Higgins Commission that day in relation to the garda legal strategy.

The email indicated that issues relating to the investigation of the Ms D allegation against Sgt McCabe, which was dismissed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, had been raised at the Commission.

The tribunal also heard that on 21 May 2015, Mr Power received correspondence from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission about a complaint made by Ms D about the investigation into her allegation. 

The correspondence stated that GSOC felt the minister should be informed of the progress of the investigation.

Initially Mr Power said he could not say and was not sure if he had seen a connection between the two pieces of correspondence at the time.

Later, following a short recess, the Tribunal heard an initial email was sent to the minister’s private secretary for Ms Fitzgerald’s attention on the same day, notifying her of the GSOC report. 

A further full submission was made on 27 May to the Minister, with the full report from GSOC attached.

The tribunal heard that Mr Power also sent a covering letter to Mr Flahive, an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Justice, in relation to the GSOC report on the same day.

In the covering letter, Mr Power stated that he thought the allegation which was the subject of the GSOC investigation had been referred to in a particular context during the initial hearings of the O’Higgins Commission. 

After the tribunal was shown the submission documents Mr Power said while he had not recalled it under earlier questioning, he said he was happy to say that he did make the link.

Questioned about his recall by Michael McDowell, Mr Power said he was not trying to be unhelpful, he simply did not recall.

Mr Power was also asked if knew whether the GSOC report and submission had been brought to the Minister’s attention 

He said it would normally be communicated back that the submission had been noted by the Minister, however he said there was nothing within the documents to confirm that had happened.

Ms Fitzgerald is due to give evidence at the Tribunal this afternoon.

Additional reporting by Sandra Hurley