Friday 23 August 2019

'A total mess from top to bottom' - declining support in FG as Taoiseach backs embattled Tanáiste following new emails

  • Senior FG figures predict swift end to Fitzgerald's career
  • Taoiseach continues to stand by embattled Tanáiste
  • 'A total mess from top to bottom' - Minister
  • New emails show former Justice Minister was made aware of media queries
  • Talks to take place between Taoiseach and Micheál Martin today
27/11/17 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving Government buildings after talks with Fianna Fails Micheal Martin about the no confidence vote in Tainaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Picture:Arthur Carron
27/11/17 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving Government buildings after talks with Fianna Fails Micheal Martin about the no confidence vote in Tainaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Picture:Arthur Carron
Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar. Photo:Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor, Denise Calnan and Laura Larkin

Support for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was ebbing away last night as colleagues predicted a swift end to her ministerial career.

After days of standing fully behind Ms Fitzgerald, senior party figures said she will have to resign in the wake of new emails relating to the treatment of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

However, Ms Fitzgerald insisted last night that she wants to fight; “As Justice Minister I could not interfere with the O’Higgins Commission.

“This is confirmed twice in today’s documents and has been confirmed by the AG,” she said.

The threat of an election still hung in the air last night but Fianna Fáil sources said they will relieve the pressure on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if his deputy steps down.

The Taoiseach, who learned of the fresh emails over the weekend, was continuing to stand by Ms Fitzgerald.

27/11/17 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving Government buildings after talks with Fianna Fails Micheal Martin about the no confidence vote in Tainaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Picture:Arthur Carron
27/11/17 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving Government buildings after talks with Fianna Fails Micheal Martin about the no confidence vote in Tainaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Picture:Arthur Carron

Mr Varadkar is likely to face a major backlash from within his own party ranks for his handling of the crisis over recent days.

“It’s a total mess from the top to the bottom,” said one Cabinet minister who had been sent out to publicly backed Ms Fitzgerald in recent days.  

The Email Trail.JPG
 
The Email Trail 2.JPG

The new documents show that Ms Fitzgerald “noted” an email received in May 2015 – despite telling the Dáil last week that she couldn’t remember the correspondence.

It alerted her to a dispute between lawyers Ms O’Sullivan and Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

Simon Coveney arrives at Government Buildings this morning (Photo: Gerry Mooney)
Simon Coveney arrives at Government Buildings this morning (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

A separate email thread now reveals that in July 2015 the Department of Justice received queries from RTÉ about the “aggressive stance” adopted by the Garda’s legal team.

In response to the questions, a briefing note was prepared by the Deputy Secretary General at the Department, Ken O’Leary.

He told Ms Fitzgerald: “I understand that some weeks ago Sgt McCabe indicated to his authorities in Mullingar that he no longer wanted to stay in his post in the Traffic Unit.

“Apparently he blamed the Commissioner for this though he said he could not be more specific as he was bound by confidentiality.

“This coincided with hearings at the O’Higgins Commission (these hearings are being held in private and there is a prohibition on disclosing evidence given at them).

“Sgt McCabe remains in his post at the traffic unit, though, in practice, his time recently has been taken up giving evidence to the Commission.”

The official advises Ms Fitzgerald that it is a matter of public record that at various times Sgt McCabe has raised “various concerns” regarding his position in the Force.

The email was discovered after Mr Varadkar ordered a trawl of the department to find anything that should have been provided to the Charleton Tribunal which is investigating allegations of a Garda smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

The Irish Independent understands the Taoiseach’s office was made aware of the discoveries last Friday and Mr Varadkar was briefed over the weekend.

Sources close the Taoiseach said last night the documents “don’t materially change the narrative”.

The Tánaiste was also continuing to insist that she did not know about the legal strategy in a detailed way until it was leaked to the media in May 2016.

“She believes the focus on these two emails paints a very inaccurate picture of her role in this,” said a source.

In response to the media queries Mr O’Leary suggested the minister tell journalists she must be conscious that Sgt McCabe “no more and no less than any service member of the Force, is entitled to confidentiality in his dealings with the Garda authorities”.

“So it would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly in any way on those dealings.”

The proposed response continues: “In particular, I think it would be very unfair to Sgt McCabe for me to do so.”

In another email the minister is briefed on the response of Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan to the same query. On that occasion Mr O’Leary advised Ms Fitzgerald “it would be completely inappropriate for you to comment in any way on the workings of the Commission”.

There is no evidence of Ms Fitzgerald having replied to any of the emails directly.

Further emails show how Ms O’Sullivan personally emailed senior justice officials detailing proposed media responses to queries from RTÉ’s ‘This Week’ programme.

Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald this morning said she believes the Fine Gael leadership is now in a state of "delusion".

Speaking on RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Ms McDonald said she now believes the Taoiseach's judgment is "questionable."

"I think the Fine Gael leadership is in a state of delusion 

"The Fine Gael leadership should reflect on the fact that the Dept of Justice under the leadership of the current Tánaiste withheld fairly extensive documentation from the tribunal

"The leadership of Fine Gael should not keep insisting on this strategy of minimising the crisis. It is a matter of great seriousness."

She continued; "I don't think anybody planned a Christmas election - we are all aware of the stresses and strains at this time of year. I have a young family myself, I realise that Christmas is by no stretch of the imagination a good time for an election. 

"It was clear last week it was time for Frances Fitzgerald to go. I hope people see it's clear now. 

"The judgment of Taoiseach Varadkar is questionable... it shows him to be either very weak or very arrogant."

Meanwhile, Labour's Alan Kelly said it would be "total and utter madness" to have an election now.

"I've come to the conclusion that if we have an election now - the only reason must be that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil actually WANT an election rather than deal with these issues," he told the programme.

"I was refused answers and because I was refused answers I went back and asked even more questions.

"The Department shut down all my questions.

"As a result of that, and the drip drip drip of information, as we kept probing along with others, eventually we are where we are. 

"I have questions for Charlie Flanagan.

"Why did he refuse to cooperate with the democratic process? Why did his department refuse to answer my questions? What is he doing over a department that refused to cooperate fully with a tribunal?

"At the very least he needs to launch an inquiry and ask why these documents hadn't been found.

"The evidence produced in the last 24 hours shows there was an awareness level as to what was going on. This means that "Frances Fitzgerald's position is absolutely untenable.

"The minister needs to resign or the Taoiseach needs to act."

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