Sunday 28 May 2017

'What is the Taoiseach supposed to be guilty of?' - Finance Minister on Taoiseach's handling of McCabe controversy

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan speaking to media at the Corporate Tax: Fairness, Responsibility and Leadership Conference at Dublin Castle.
Pic Steve Humphreys
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan speaking to media at the Corporate Tax: Fairness, Responsibility and Leadership Conference at Dublin Castle. Pic Steve Humphreys

Conor Feehan and Cormac McQuinn

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Taoiseach Enda Kenny's 'mea cupla' was simply an effort to correct the record and added; "What is the Taoiseach supposed to be guilty of?".

Minister Noonan spoke as he arrived at a discussion on Corporate Tax at Dublin Castle this morning.

He also confirmed the terms of reference for the public inquiry into the McCabe affair have been agreed unanimously by Cabinet.

Asked if the Taoiseach should indicate when he would step down as leader of Fine Gael, Minister Noonan said Mr Kenny had indicated in the past that he would not lead the party into the next election.

"I have no idea what the Taoiseach's intentions are," he said.

"We had a parliamentary party meeting yesterday evening and no one mentioned that issue.

"The issue that was raised was the preparedness or otherwise of the Fine Gael party for a general election.

"It's been a very difficult week, there's no doubt about it, but the Government is very united.

"The Independents in Government have fully participated in all discussions. It's very cohesive.

"It's very early in the life of a normal Government and the Taoiseach has huge contacts internationally and an enormous amount of skill over his years as Taoiseach," he continued.

"There are very trying times ahead, especially with Brexit in which he has a skill set that is important and valuable to the country at present. But it is entirely a matter for himself when he decides to fulfil the commitment he made to stand down as leader before the next election.

"Of course it's still a minority Government, but Fianna Fail remain strongly in support as well and I understand Minister Frances Fitzgerald has had talks late last night and early this morning with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan and that Fianna Fail are in full agreement with the draft terms of reference of the tribunal," he added.

When asked if he thought the Taoiseach had handled the McCabe controversy of the last week badly, the Finance Minister said that last Tuesday in the Dáil Mr Kenny was being accused of things he wasn't guilty of.

"He has worked very, very hard that everybody would be treated fairly. On Tuesday there was a commission of inquiry agreed that has been raised to a tribunal of inquiry now. What is the Taoiseach supposed to be guilty of?" he said.

Asked if Mr Kenny's 'Mea Culpa' was an embarrassment to the Government, Mr Noonan said he was correcting the record.

"That happens frequently. The Taoiseach has such busy days that sometimes what happens in the evening things that happened in the morning are like things that happened weeks before," said Mr Noonan.

"It's the same with a busy Minister. There are days when at nine o'clock in the evening when I think of what happened at ten in the morning, it's as if it were three or four weeks ago," he added.

Asked by Independent.ie if someone who couldn't remember whether he had met someone personally at a vital meeting or had communicated through their staff should be running the country, let alone a political party, Mr Noonan said the Taoiseach had answered that in the Dail and he wasn't going to "reprise what he said" in relation to the meetings with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.

He said there was wide party agreement on the terms and that he hoped they would pass through the Dáil "without too much controversy".

"The portion of the inquiry which will deal with Sgt Maurice McCabe and respective garda commissioners will be completed in a nine month period," Minister Noonan said.

"I think that the main business which the House is involved in is in setting up a tribunal of inquiry and ensuring that there is fair play on both sides, will be concluded in the Dail today and in the Seanad either tonight or tomorrow, and I would expect Judge Charlton to be conducting his hearing by next by next Tuesday.

"The primary business is in hand and well under control, and on the politics of it every party will be looking at the situation  now because there were a lot of TDs in all parties who are quite concerned that the date of an election has been brought forward, and I'm sure those discussions will go on at party level next week as they will go on in Fine Gael and other parties."

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