Friday 23 February 2018

Blame game as Ahern rejects FF leak claims

Coalition reeling after resignation

Fionnan Sheahan and Aine Kerr

JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern was last night forced to deny that Fianna Fail was involved in the resignation of Trevor Sargent in revenge for the Green Party's role in pushing out former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea.

The coalition was reeling from the second ministerial resignation in as many weeks, with the Greens appearing shell-shocked by the rapid turn of events.

Its leader John Gormley repeatedly refused to rule out Fianna Fail being part of a dirty tricks campaign in retaliation for the Greens' role in the resignation of Mr O'Dea.

Opposition parties said Mr Sargent being implicated in a controversy -- just days after Mr O'Dea stood down -- was a case of the "empire strikes back".

A furious Mr Ahern angrily denied he was personally involved in a plot to bring down Mr Sargent.

The former Green Party leader and Junior Agriculture Minister was accused of interfering in a garda case and trying to pervert the course of justice.

Mr Sargent admitted he had contacted gardai in relation to an alleged assault on a constituent, Dominic McGowan, in September 2007.

Mr McGowan last night denied there was any "interference" in the course of justice and said he believed the Taoiseach should reconsider the "honourable" resignation by the Green minister.

In a statement, Mr Sargent accepted he may have acted unlawfully in trying to get a prosecution dropped, but said he had not committed any criminal offence. He said he was intent on helping a constituent and overstepped the line.

"I accept I made an error of judgment. Accordingly I hereby tender my resignation forthwith as Minister of State for Food and Horticulture," he said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen also denied any Fianna Fail involvement in leaking information which led to the resignation of Mr Sargent.

Mr Cowen said the opposition was attempting to destabilise the coalition and dismissed the accusations of his party being involved. "It is beneath contempt, it is without foundation and has no basis in fact," he said.

But Mr Gormley was pressed four times to rule out Fianna Fail involvement and failed to do so.

Describing Mr Sargent as "honourable and decent", he said his former leader was a credit to the Green Party, a credit to politics and "he gives politics a good name".

"I don't have all of the facts in my possession as of yet, and so I'm not going to jump to any conclusion. What we want to do as a party is to pay tribute to Trevor this evening," he said.

"Today is a very difficult and emotional day for this party and really at this stage we don't want to contemplate the issues that you're referring to (FF dirty tricks)."

After the finger of blame was firmly pointed in his direction and that of his department, Mr Ahern said he was "hurt" by the opposition's accusations and Mr Sargent was a "friend".

Mr Ahern said the first he heard of the case was when it emerged in the 'Evening Herald' yesterday.

"I can absolutely assure you that I had nothing to do with it and to the best of my knowledge, none of any of my colleagues in Fianna Fail had anything to do with it."

Department of Justice pointed out a hearing in a related case was held earlier this month, suggesting the leak emanated from those proceedings.

But Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said questions arose for Mr Ahern in light of leaked correspondence to gardai and the "series of tit-for-tat political hits is demolishing Government stability".


But Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said it was "too much of a coincidence" and that yesterday's events were a simple case of the "empire strikes back".

While not having any direct knowledge of who orchestrated the leak, Mr Rabbitte said the leak had caused Mr Sargent's resignation and came in the wake of the Greens asserting their authority.

Mr Sargent's place as a junior minister is now expected to be taken by Green Party deputy leader Mary White.

Senior Garda officers are to study a report on the controversy before deciding whether an investigation is warranted.

The report was sought by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy from Chief Supt Gerry Phillips after he learned about the representations yesterday morning.

The chief's report is expected to set out the sequence of events and also focus on the exchange of correspondence between local officers in Balbriggan and Mr Sargent.

Irish Independent

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