Sunday 18 August 2019

Charlie Flanagan accused of using 'childish lectures' to deflect from questions about treatment of whistleblower

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly.
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

JUSTICE Minister Charlie Flanagan has been accused of using “childish lectures” to deflect from legitimate questions about the treatment of whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The minister has insisted there is “no question” that the Department of Justice sought to interfere “in any way” with the approach taken by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan at the O’Higgins Commission.

He was responding to a string of queries from Labour TD Alan Kelly who has suggested officials in the Department were aware of plans to discredit Mr McCabe.

It has been widely reported that Ms O’Sullivan’s lawyers set out to challenge Mr McCable’s “credibility and motivation”, although she has publicly praised his efforts to expose wrongdoing in An Garda Síochána.

Over the weekend both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was justice minister at the time, appeared to stonewalled with asked about Mr Kelly’s assertions.

But now Mr Flanagan has said: “It was solely a matter for the parties to the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation to decide what legal approach to take to the work of the Commission, taking into account the legal advice available to them. 

“In the circumstances, the Department of Justice and Equality would have had no role in determining the approach to be taken by the Garda Commissioner to the Commission in question.

“Accordingly, there was no question of the Department seeking to interfere in any way with, or to have any say in determining, that approach by the Garda Commissioner.”

Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Collins
Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Collins

However, Mr Kelly said the Minister has “yet again” avoided the question as to whether the Department was “aware” of the legal strategy adopted by the ex-Commissioner.

“Its a very simple question. If the Department did not know, just say so,” he said.

Mr Kelly has asked the Ceann Comhairle to intervene in order to get a clearer answer from the Minister and he has written to the Taoiseach.

"The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has a career defining decision to make now. Is he going to as Taoiseach uphold the constitution and respect the democratic institutions of this state by ensuring that the Department of Justice answers all my questions in full. If he doesn't, this issue will follow him. It will not go away,” the Tipperary TD said.

Read More: Charlie Flanagan rejects suggestions his department was aware of attempts to discredit garda whistleblower

Since the O’Higgin’s Commission concluded, the Government has set up the Disclosures’ Tribunal which is investigating whether there was a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

The Minister said this inquiry is “armed with extensive and comprehensive terms of reference” and can seek information from the Department of Justice if necessary.

In his statement Mr Flanagan also took a subtle swipe at Mr Kelly, saying: “I believe that Members of the Oireachtas should be responsible in their public statements and I believe that as parliamentarians we should respect the operation of Tribunals of Inquiry.  The Disclosures Tribunal was established by the Oireachtas . The Tribunal must be allowed to do its work.”

However, Mr Kelly responded by accusing the minister of engaging in “childish lectures”.

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