Tuesday 20 August 2019

Frances Fitzgerald vows to fight on despite release of fresh emails as party leaders' meeting ends without resolution

A row over the future of Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald could lead to a snap election
A row over the future of Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald could lead to a snap election
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
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TÁNAISTE Frances Fitzgerald has vowed to fight on despite release of fresh emails relating to the treatment of whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The minister released a brief statement on Twitter today indicating that she will not give in to Opposition demands for her resignation.

And a spokesperson for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Independent.ie that he retains full confidence in his deputy.

Documents released tonight show that Ms Fitzgerald “noted” the email at the centre of the controversy threatening to bring down the Government. She told the Dail last week that she does not remember receiving correspondence in May 2015 – although she admits she probably did read it.

New emails also show that Ms Fitzgerald was briefed on how to respond to media queries about an “aggressive stance” being taken by lawyers for Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan against Sgt McCabe in July 2015.

The Tánaiste has always said she was not aware of the legal strategy taken by Gardaí until it became public knowledge  a year later.

Officials in the department have been conducting a search for emails that may be relevant to the Charleton Tribunal which is investigating allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Speculation was rife within Fine Gael that Ms Fitzgerald would step down on foot of the new revelations, but Ms Fitzgerald has now tweeted: "As Justice Minister I could not interfere with the O'Higgins Commission.

"This is confirmed  twice in today's documents & has been confirmed by the AG (Attorney General).

She added that the Charleton Tribunal will “objectively judge the appropriateness of my conduct”.

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

“I look forward to giving my evidence to the Tribunal early in January,” she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney defended the Tánaiste saying Fine Gale wanted breathing space for six weeks to allow her give evidence to the tribunal.

“The two emails that were published today were very clear advising the strongly not to interfere with the Commission that was taking place.“She would have bene damned if she intervened and damned if she didn’t,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Claire Byrne Show, he added: “What is the problem here with waiting six weeks to allow a tribunal do it’s work.

“If she’s given the opportunity to do that in a fair way she may well be vindicated.”

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the minister “has been at fault”.“

There are serious errors in what she did. We need some leadership from Fine Gael to stop the country slipping into a general election.”

Read more: Frances Fitzgerald 'noted' email at centre of controversy when she received it, new documents reveal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin held a meeting tonight in a bid to find a compromise that will save the country from a general election in the days before Christmas.

The meeting ended shortly after 11pm without any breakthrough. They are to have one final attempt at averting an election in the morning.

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said there was “serious engagement on both sides, and all remain keen to avoid an election in the interest of the country”.

It's understood the two party leaders discussed two email threads which were publicly released by the Department of Justice tonight.

The first is an unredacted version of the email in which Ms Fitzgerald is alerted to a dispute between lawyers for ex-Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission in May 2015.

Ms Fitzgerald has said that while she probably read the email she cannot remember it.

However, the documents released tonight the Minister’s private secretary tells another senior justice officials: “The Minister has noted the below.”

A separate email from July 4, 2015 now also shows that Ms Fitzgerald was made aware of press queries from RTÉ which suggested Sgt McCabe “was looking to be taken out of the traffic unit in Mullingar”.

It also questions whether the Garda Commissioner had instructed her counsel “to adopt an aggressive stance towards Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission”.

A briefing note by the Deputy Secretary General in Justice for Ms Fitzgerald states: “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 justice official suggests a reply that the Minister could make in which she would say that she must  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 Garda Commission Noirin O’Sullivan to the same query.

On that occasion the Deputy Secretary 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.

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