Monday 17 December 2018

Sinn Féin lodges motion of 'no confidence' in Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald as ministers expected to defend her record

'I am not trying to hide anything. I was not part of any conspiracy to malign Maurice McCabe, quite the contrary' - Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

TÁNAISTE Frances Fitzgerald is facing a motion of no confidence after Sinn Féin claimed it is now "abundantly clear" she needs to be forced from office.

The minister put up a robust defence of her time in the Department of Justice today, saying: "I am not trying to hide anything. I was not part of any conspiracy to malign Maurice McCabe, quite the contrary."

But Sinn Féin have pushed a no confidence vote in a move in that is likely to force Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to cancel a trip to visit troops in Mali next week.

Fighting for her career, Ms Fitzgerald told the Dáil that suggestion she did nothing about whistleblowers "is completely wrong".

"I was the first Minister for Justice who ever met a serving member of An Garda Siochana to discuss an issue like this. I wanted to hear his concerns," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is also likely to now face questions over delays in alerting both Ms Fitzgerald and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the discovery of the email at the centre of the controversy.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency

The email from May 2015 informed Ms Fitzgerald of events at the O’Higgins Commission. It said that lawyers for then-Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan were going to raise Mr McCabe’s claim that a serious allegation against him was not property investigated when, in fact, a file was sent to the DPP who directed no prosecution.

Independent.ie now understands the email was discovered by officials on November 9 but Mr Flanagan wasn’t told for four days.

Ms Fitzgerald was only alerted to the discovered when she rang the Department on November 16. And Mr Varadkar didn’t find out until November 20.

In the meantime Mr Varadkar had twice told the Dáil that a trawl of documents by the Department of Justice had not found anything to suggest the minister or officials were aware of the legal strategy being adopted by lawyers for Garda.

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman said the Tánaiste was made aware of a plan "to attack and try to personally destroy" Maurice McCabe.

"You were privy to that strategy. And our criticism is that you did nothing to stop it," he said.

"You were sent this email so that you could either give a green light or a red light to the strategy.

"You could have expressed reservations about the legal strategy. You didn’t do that."

Ms Fitzgerald replied: "I did not interfere with the legal strategy. That would have been illegal. I would have criminal for me to try influence the legal strategy of An Garda Siochana."

However, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "I'm not taken for a moment by the bluster."

She said the minister became aware of an a malicious strategy and "failed to offer when it mattered any protection to Maurice McCabe."

"For reasons you need to explain looked the other way," she said.

"You continued consistently to give political support to one of the architects of that legal strategy. You picked your side and you certainly weren’t on Maurice’s side."

Ms McDonald said it was time for the Tánaiste to step aside.

Attention will now turn to Fianna Fáil who are in a confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael. If they seek Ms Fitzgerald’s resignation it could spark a general election in the days before Christmas.

Meanwhile, Minister Simon Harris launched a defence of the embattled Tánaiste, saying he expects the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement underpinning the government to be honoured.

And he launched an attack on Sinn Féin who has placed a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste before the Dáil.

Mr Harris said: “I think most citizens in this country respect the fact that when you ask a judge to set up a tribunal, you actually allow the judge get on with his work.

“I frankly think Justice Charleton is a much better person to adjudicate on that email and all other information than Mary Lou McDonald or any other member of the Sinn Féin party.”

Mr Harris said there should be “respect for due process in this country”.

“I certainly don’t think there should be dual process. The Tribunal is in place. I have every faith and confidence in the Tribunal.”

Asked whether an election is the inevitable outcome if Fianna Fáil are unable to abstain on the motion of no confidence, Mr Harris said: “Fianna Fáil supported the establishment of this tribunal. Fianna Fáil has always been a party that respects due process and respects the institutions of this State.”

Speaking at a hastily organised press conference outside Government Buildings, he said: “The Government has full confidence in Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste, as Minister for Business and for her time as Minister for Justice. “

Independent.ie understands that a series of ministers are likely to be sent over the course of the next 24 hours to defend the Tánaiste’s record in office.

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