Monday 26 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: It’s too simplistic to pile all the pressure on Frances Fitzgerald

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Pic Steve Humphreys
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Pic Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

If this were a game of Cluedo the obvious answer is that it was Frances Fitzgerald in the Department of Justice with the email.

But for all the conspiracy theories and assumptions being made in Leinster House over the past 24 hours there is one obvious point being overlooked.

What exactly is the allegation against the Tánaiste?

Based on the Dáil debates over the past two days it would seem that TDs believe she should have intervened in the O’Higgins Commission to stop gardaí from questioning Maurice McCabe’s credibility as a witness.

And she doesn’t remember an email received in 2015 flagging “that counsel for the Garda Síochána has raised as an issue in the hearings an allegation made against Sergeant McCabe".

But it’s too simplistic to pile all the pressure on Ms Fitzgerald.

Even if she printed out the email, framed it and hung it on her wall she still wouldn’t have been able to act on.

Legally she couldn’t have ordered the Garda Commissioner’s legal team to cease and desist – that would definitely have been a resigning matter.

As for forgetting the email I have yet to meet a politician in Leinster House who can honestly say that he/she remembers all of the dozens of messages they get everyday.

No doubt it looks bad that Ms Fitzgerald can’t remember an email linked to a controversy that has convulsed An Garda Siochana for years now – but is that unforgiveable?

In the hours ahead Ms Fitzgerald will be fighting for her political career. Her fate is now in the hands of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Santa Claus.

She will argue that throughout her time in Justice she tried to force reforms on bodies that are set in their way.

Commissions of Investigations were set up, the Policing Authority established and a review is underway to create a blueprint for the future of policing.

The reality is though that taking her down will achieve little – it’s the system that’s broken. Ms Fitzgerald failed to fix it during her three years in the Department of Justice but the problems run deep. They may well require a restructuring of the entire department.

So the focus needs to shift onto the bigger picture. Perhaps we all took our eyes off the Department as the political system followed garda scandal after garda scandal.

Remember in 2014 the Toland review of the Department found a “closed, secretive” culture and recommended a “programme for fundamental and sustained organisational and cultural change and renewal”.

In recent days that culture has been back on public display as Leo Varadkar was repeatedly feed the wrong information from officials.

So while Ms Fitzgerald might have some explaining to do it is far too easy to just force her resignation.

All that would do is destroy the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, resulting in an election that absolutely nobody wants in the days before Christmas.

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