Wednesday 24 January 2018

'Rough week' may see FG in power longer, Varadkar claims

Meanwhile new minister says 'hostile' politics deters women

Prone to miscalculation: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving RTE after appearing on the Marian Finucane show yesterday Photo: Fergal Phillips
Prone to miscalculation: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving RTE after appearing on the Marian Finucane show yesterday Photo: Fergal Phillips
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government has had a "rough week" but insists that narrowly averting an election has "focused minds" and may actually see the Fine Gael-led minority stay in office longer.

He made the remarks after an extraordinary week that saw Frances Fitzgerald resign as Tanaiste over the Garda whistleblower issue and Varadkar forced into a mini-reshuffle. Ms Fitzgerald departed ahead of threatened opposition motions of no confidence relating to emails she received in 2015 during her time as justice minister.

Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein demanded her head amid questions about what she knew, and when, about the strategy adopted by the legal team for Garda management against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

Last night newly appointed Cabinet minister Josepha Madigan said she believes there is a "hostile environment" that is deterring women from entering politics.

"Look at Frances Fitzgerald, what she had to go through, and they're saying to themselves 'why would I put myself through that?' the new Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said. Ms Madigan also said she believes Fitzgerald will be vindicated at the Disclosures Tribunal, which was set up to look into the treatment of McCabe following his raising of concerns about Garda malpractice.

Mr Varadkar meanwhile said: "I don't think it's the first time that an Irish government has gone through a rough week," adding that he's determined to make his administration last.

Parting of the ways: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Parting of the ways: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

He told RTE Radio's Marian Finucane the week started "very badly with the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald, which I still deeply regret".

In relation to controversies in the Garda and Department of Justice, he said it's something that's being going on "for far too long and needs to be dealt with".

But he said reforms were already being introduced, pointing to the establishment of the Policing Authority and the appointment of a senior barrister to investigate the emails saga.

He also said that notwithstanding the "serious problems" in the justice sector, Garda members - particularly frontline officers - were generally "very good" and their work meant Ireland was a "relatively low-crime country". Mr Varadkar praised Sgt McCabe for raising his concerns about the force, saying: "I think he's done the nation a lot of service".

He said the extent of a organised campaign against Sgt McCabe is not yet known and that the Disclosures Tribunal under Mr Justice Peter Charleton was established to get to the bottom of that.

Ms Finucane put it to Mr Varadkar that the former Tanaiste was made aware of the legal strategy against Sgt McCabe by email in 2015.

Mr Varadkar replied: "It seems from the emails that there is some level of awareness there but certainly not any detail."

He said Ms Fitzgerald took the view that it had been a matter for the O'Higgins Commission and she had been advised not to intervene.

On the political row that brought the country to the brink of an election, Mr Varadkar insisted it was "never about winning or losing some sort of poker game" with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, rather it was "about getting to the truth, getting all the facts".

He said he still thinks the best place for this to happen is at the Disclosures Tribunal.

In relation to his unwavering support for Ms Fitzgerald during the crisis, he said: "I wanted to stand by a colleague who ultimately I don't think did any wrong." He said it was "not blind loyalty". Mr Varadkar said he didn't seek her resignation and that she ultimately took the decision to go to avoid "plunging the country into a general election at a time when we didn't need it".

Mr Varadkar said neither Fine Gael or Fianna Fail had wanted an election and he thinks that the events of the last week have "actually focused minds and mean this government is more likely to continue for longer than people might have thought". He said he's determined to honour the Confidence and Supply agreement and deliver a third Budget next year.

Ms Finucane asked how Mr Varadkar's partner, Dr Matthew Barrett - who is working in the US - rated his handling of the crisis. The Taoiseach said he was "enormously supportive as always". He said it would have been nice if Dr Barrett was here, adding there's "only another six months to go for him in Chicago - not [for] me as Taoiseach, I'll be around for a while".

Sunday Independent

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