Wednesday 12 December 2018

Harris: Frances Fitzgerald was 'hounded out of office', Micheál Martin should apologise

  • Health Minister Simon Harris has said Frances Fitzgerald was 'hounded out of office'
  • Says Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin should apologise for demanding her 'head on a plate'
  • Says Ms Fitzgerald had been 'vindicated' by the Disclosures Tribunal report
Health Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

HEALTH Minister Simon Harris has said Frances Fitzgerald was "hounded out of office" and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin should apologise for demanding her "head on a plate".

He said Ms Fitzgerald had been "vindicated" by the Disclosures Tribunal report and while it’s a matter for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who he appoints to Cabinet, Mr Harris believes Ms Fitzgerald has a "major role to play in Irish politics".

She resigned as Tánaiste and justice minister last November ahead of threatened opposition motions of no confidence.

Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein demanded that she go amid questions about what she knew and when about the strategy adopted by the legal team for Garda management against whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission in 2015.

In the Disclosures Tribunal report published yesterday Mr Justice Peter Charleton found that she had given an honest appraisal of the situation in which she had found herself back in May 2015.

He concluded that she was right not to have intervened in the inquiry into Garda controversies and he fully accepted her overall account of events.

Some of the players in the controversy include, from left, former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, her predecessor Martin Callinan, Superintendent David Taylor, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, former justice minister Alan Shatter, Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone
Some of the players in the controversy include, from left, former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, her predecessor Martin Callinan, Superintendent David Taylor, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, former justice minister Alan Shatter, Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone

Ms Fitzgerald welcomed the outcome last night.

Mr Harris said this morning that Ms Fitzgerald had been "vindicated" and it is "disappointing" that the Opposition have yet to apologise to Ms Fitzgerald for the charges they made against her.

He said: "A good woman was hounded out of office", adding: "she was not afforded due process".

Mr Harris said: "Even government ministers are entitled to due process. She wasn’t afforded that."

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Steve Humphreys

He claimed: "Micheál Martin decided that she wasn’t entitled to that.

"He, for political expediency, in an effort to mark Sinn Féin demanded her head on a plate.

"It was disgraceful conduct and he should apologise."

Mr Harris also said Mr Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald should "correct the record of the Dáil".

He was asked if he’d like to see Ms Fitzgerald returned to Cabinet.

Mr Harris said: "That’s a decision for the Taoiseach but I have no doubt Frances Fitzgerald has a major role to play in Irish politics."

Speaking on RTE Radio One's News At One, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Frances Fitzgerald has been "completely vindicated" by the tribunal.

"She had to step down to effectively save the government," Minister Coveney said.

"People should reflect on this, people's careers can be massively impacted at times because of people's agendas.

"There is an excitement that builds around a minister under pressure instead of looking at the facts."

"Frances did not deserve to step down in the way she did," he added.

The Tánaiste said the country "would be very foolish to have an election in the middle of Brexit negotiations."

"If it had to happen, of course we would do it," he said.

Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin responded to Mr Harris's remarks arguing that Ms Fitzgerald provided information to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar while the controversy was raging last year that caused the Dáil to be misled.

A Fianna Fáil statement said: "It is disappointing and dispiriting that despite the hugely serious and disturbing findings within this report, including a finding that the Garda Commissioner briefed a member of the Oireachtas with the lie that the whistleblower at the centre of the issue was a paedophile, Fine Gael would choose to attempt to claim political vindication from the report.

"Frances Fitzgerald had to resign last November because Fianna Fáil and the majority of the Dáil had lost confidence in her following a trail of mishaps, including forcing the Taoiseach to mislead the House on numerous occasions.

"No finding of Mr Justice Charleton disturbs that fact and every Government Minister is accountable to Dáil Éireann."

Sinn Féin also said they feel Sgt McCabe should receive an apology.

"Minister Frances Fitzgerald provided information to the Taoiseach that resulted the record of the Dáil being corrected on number of occasions.

“The former Tánaiste was aware of a legal strategy that was designed to attack Maurice McCabe's integrity. This is despite her public position of valuing and protecting whistle-blowers.

"At the time, the majority of the Dáil did not have confidence in Ms Fitzgerald and the actions we took were the correct response.

 "It is Maurice McCabe is that is due an apology," they said.

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