Wednesday 18 September 2019

Questions over whether Tánaiste can stay on in Government - Dáil told

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Tom Burke
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

There are serious questions about whether Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald can stay on in government, the Dáil has been told.

The warning came as TDs from the main opposition parties combined to question how the Dáil was twice 'misled' last week - and also demand a full explanation from Ms Fitzgerald on events surrounding the treatment of garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

In reply the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, defended Ms Fitzgerald and insisted that her version of events was still largely correct.

Questions have emerged over an email which Tanaiste received in 2015 that referred to a dispute at the O’Higgins’ Commission.

The Jobs Minister has today confirmed that officials did send her an email about “an event at the Tribunal” in May 2015.

However, she denied it signalled any “overall strategy” on the part of ex-Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s legal team to discredit Sgt McCabe.

The email has raised questions on when the Fine Gael deputy knew of a legal strategy aimed at discrediting the whistleblower.

On both Tuesday and again on Wednesday of last week Mr Varadkar said that Ms Fitzgerald had told him she only got to know about the issue in May 2016, which was much the same time the information came into the public domain.

There is increasing pressure on the Government to outline a clear timeline of events and the Tanaiste is expected to give a statement this evening and take further questions on the matter.

In the chamber today Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said that he had received a phone call from Sgt McCabe a short while before this Dáil debate began. He said Sgt McCabe took serious issue with explanations relayed by Ms Fitzgerald in a radio interview broadcast just a little while earlier.

Sinn Féin spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was “stretching credibility” to say that Ms Fitzgerald could not remember the contents of the Justice Department email.

He also questioned a Justice Department explanation that officials only recently found this email when trawling for answers for a range of Dáil questions on the issue.

“There are serious questions about whether the Minister can stay in her position,” Mr Doherty said.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said this issue had been raised by party colleague, Alan Kelly, and this led to the Dáil being misled last week by the Taoiseach. Mr Howlin said the Dáil had also been misled about appointments to the office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and both were serious matters.

Mr Howlin challenged the Taoiseach to publish the May 2015 Justice Department email. He also supported other TDs’ calls for a full explanation from Ms Fitzgerald.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Dáil had been “misinformed – not misled” and he was happy now to set the record straight. Mr Varadkar said the email in question came two and a half years ago and had recommended that neither the Minister nor the Attorney General could intervene.

Mr Varadkar said he was not sure he could just publish the Justice Department email as all these issues were now the subject of investigation by the Charleton Tribunal, having earlier been probed by the O’Higgins Commission. He said the Tánaiste’s earlier version of events was in the main correct as she only heard about Ms O’Sullivan’s lawyers’ actions after they were carried out.

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