Frances Fitzgerald launches stern defence of her record as justice minister
TÁNAISTE Frances Fitzgerald has launched a stern defence of her record as justice minister, saying she “utterly rejects” suggestions she acted improperly.
Ms Fitzgerald received fresh legal advice today about the contents of an email she received in May 2015 which alerted her clashes between lawyers for Gardaí and whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
The advice said that she was correct not to intervene in the legal disputes at the inquiry, the Tánaiste said.
Speaking in the Seanad, Ms Fitzgerald argued that the political charges made against her in recent days are unfair.
“The suggestion is that I didn’t act to improve how An Garda Siochana dealt with the issue of whistleblowing.
“The suggestion is that I didn’t want the truth to be found. Let me be clear, I utterly reject those suggestions,” she said.
Her appearance in the Seanad came shortly after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked his party member for “time and space” to decide their approach to the controversy.
If his party declare no confidence in the Tánaiste it could spark a general election in the days before Christmas.
The Tánaiste told the Seanad “actions speak louder than words” before outlining out she “pursued a programme of fundamental reform of An Garda Siochana and the Department of Justice & Equality”.
“For decades, successive governments failed to deal with the issue of whistleblowers,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald said she has always been “a hard-working, pro- active Minister, never afraid to tackle the issues in the three Departments in which I have served”.
“Nobody could credibly accuse me of being work shy,” she said.
However, Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee said the answers were “far from satisfactory”.
“The way things stand at present there are more questions than answers,” she said.
Ms Clifford-Lee claimed that by not intervening with the Garda efforts to discredit Sgt McCabe, the Tánaiste “actually agreed with the strategy”.
“It’s completely incredible that you didn’t act or see fit to act. Surely the alarms bells should have gone off in your head. If they didn’t Tánaiste we’d really have to question your judgement on this,” she said.
However, Ms Fitzgerald received backing from Independent senator Victor Boylan who hit out at the sense “of people vying for political blood and a head on a plate”.
He said TDs and senators had “belly ached” for a tribunal which the Tánaiste duly established, adding that it was “fundamentally and grossly unfair and wrong” to now run a parallel investigation in the Oireachtas.
Fine Gael senator Martin Conway described the Tánaiste as a person of “integrity”.
“She’s somebody who pioneered women’s rights in the 80s and 90s when it wasn’t popular,” he said.
Mr Conway described the contribution from Ms Clifford-Lee as “quiet outrageous”.
“When is black and white, not black and white?” he asked.
Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile said the controversy was “undermining your judgement and credibility”, while Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin questioned whether Ms Fitzgerald showed too much deference to officials in the Department of Justice.
“They consider themselves to quiet important. They walk with a certain stagger. They take themselves quiet seriously.
“You would have been aware of their reputation. Who was running the show?” he asked.
Ms Fitzgerald concluded the debate, saying: “I acted on all of the issues that came up about whistleblowers. All of my actions showed that I was taking the issue of whistleblowing very seriously when I was minister for justice.”