It has emerged that former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan personally told a senior Department of Justice official that her legal team had questioned Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s motivations for becoming a whistleblower at the O'Higgins Commission.
It is the first confirmation that the former commissioner personally made the department aware of the controversial legal strategy.
The Department of Justice has confirmed the conversation occurred, but said no written record was kept.
It marks the second known instance in which the department was informed of a garda strategy to discredit Sergeant McCabe – while under the stewardship of the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.
It remains unclear whether anyone at the department briefed the Minister about the call from Commissioner O’Sullivan.
Talks between the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin are said to be at a sensitive stage this afternoon as they continue their bid to avoid a Christmas election.
It comes after Fianna Fáil on Friday tabled a motion of no confidence in Minister Fitzgerald over her handling of the whistleblower controversy.
If it is passed, the party will be in breach of the confidence and supply agreement that is propping up the minority-led Fine Gael government – triggering a general election.
Opposition parties have seized on the Tánaiste’s handling of an email she received in May 2015 which alluded to a garda strategy to discredit Maurice McCabe.
Minister Fitzgerald has continually insisted she had no knowledge of any alleged strategy until 2016, when it entered the public domain.
She has said does not remember the email, adding that it would have been “inappropriate and improper” for her to have intervened in any case.
This morning, Fianna Fail TD John Lahart told Newstalk that Minister Fitzgerald should have distanced herself from the Garda strategy - even if the email told her she didn’t have to act:
“She deferred to the advice at the bottom of the mail from a justice official saying, ‘nothing to see here Minister you have no role in this,’” he said.
“Well she actually did have a role in this.
“She had a legal team – or her department had a legal team – at the tribunal and at the very least she could have said, ‘guys, I don’t want – and I don’t want the Department – to have any act or part in this.’”
Fianna Fáil has continued its call for Minister Fitzgerald to resign her position over her failure to act on the email.
Fine Gael however remains firmly behind her, with the Taoiseach continually insisting she has done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile it has emerged that Minister Fitzgerald met with the Garda Commissioner the day after she received the email – however a Government spokesperson has insisted they did not discuss it.
Reporting from Juliette Gash ...