Monday 22 January 2018

Whistleblower crisis: Taoiseach assures FF there will be a public inquiry as election risk recedes

Enda Kenny and Michael Martin hold meeting over whistleblower controversy

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny Picture: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone speaks to journalists on the plinth in Leinster House. Photo: Damien Eagers

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated to Fianna Fáil that he now intends to set up a public inquiry into the alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

At a meeting with Micheál Martin this morning, the Fine Gael said he would discuss the potential terms of reference with the Cabinet today.

Mr Martin provided the Taoiseach with a proposed terms of reference which was worked on overnight by Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan.

The Opposition leader also expressed serious concerns about the way in which the Government has handling the crisis over recent days.

“It was a straight forward conversion about what has happened,” a source said.

“Micheál made it clear that Fianna Fáil see a public inquiry as the way forward and the Taoiseach seemed to be on the same page.”

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald at an Irish Prison Service event in Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald at an Irish Prison Service event in Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Sources indicated that the chances of an election has receded in the wake of the meeting.

The Cabinet, which was delayed by at least 45 minutes due to the Taoiseach’s talks with Fianna Fáil, is now underway.

More to follow

Earlier, on his way into the Cabinet, Health Minister Simon Harris told Independent.ie he supports a public inquiry rather than a Commission of Investigation behind closed doors.

“A man and his family have gone to hell and back and government must and will respond in a manner which enables a platform of truth to be established.

“The culture of secrecy must end. Both human decency and the public good demand no less,” he said.

It comes after Children's Minister Katherine Zappone revealed she told the Taoiseach about the bogus Tusla file on Sgt Maurice McCabe before last week's Cabinet meeting.

Ms Zappone has been in the firing line since Friday when it emerged she failed to brief her Cabinet colleagues on the dossier which contained a false allegation that Mr McCabe had molested a child.

Read more: Taoiseach says Minister Zappone took 'correct course of action' by not divulging to him details of Tulsa link to Maurice McCabe

However, after flying back from the United States yesterday she firmly dragged the Taoiseach into the frame by revealing she alerted him that she met Mr McCabe to discuss Tusla.

"I did not go into detail of any of the allegations that I was aware of but I did indicate to him that that was the nature of the conversation," she said.

Responding to Ms Zappone's statement, a spokesman for Mr Kenny said the minister was correct not to divulge details of the Tusla report - but failed to address the fact the Taoiseach did not reveal his knowledge of the Tusla link before now.

Ms Zappone also contradicted an assertion made by the Taoiseach during a radio interview on Sunday when Mr Kenny said he told his minister to "make sure that you have a thorough account" of the meeting with Mr McCabe.

She stated that while there was contacts between her officials and Government Buildings prior to her January 25 meeting with Sgt McCabe, she did not speak to the Taoiseach directly.

Government sources last night told the Irish Independent they want to move away from a narrative focused on "who said what when" because "in the greater scheme of things the timing isn't critical".

They argued the best way of determining the truth should be the only issue under debate and the idea of either the Taoiseach or Ms Zappone raising the Tusla issue at Cabinet was "not tenable as Cabinet is a leaky bucket".

After a day of drama, Fianna Fáil TDs are considering whether it is tenable to allow the Government continue in office.

Initially, party bosses said they would abstain on a motion of no confidence because if the Government collapses it would delay the establishment of a commission of investigation into the alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Read more: Explained: Everything you need to know about the latest developments in the garda whistleblower controversy following an extraordinary day in Irish politics

However, the party is now backing calls for a public inquiry which means the terms of reference for an inquiry currently before the Dáil are likely to become irrelevant.

A senior TD said: "The public don't want an election but the Government's handling of this is beyond what people see as acceptable. If there isn't enough cause for an election here, what is needed for one?"

Another said: "We have a big decision to make. Either way it's a risk, but Fine Gael are not helping us so there is only so much charity we can offer them now."

Micheál Martin will meet with the Taoiseach today to discuss the inquiry process, and government sources say the idea of a public inquiry "will get a fair hearing at Cabinet".

In a sign there is still a willingness to work together, a major row between over a Dáil bar conversation involving Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan appeared to be abating last night.

Ms Fitzgerald vehemently denied claims by her opposition marker that he warned her of a Tusla link to the case before details were aired publicly on Prime Time.

At one stage yesterday Mr O'Callaghan warned the Government could "collapse" unless the rift was mended but last night a spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said: "The engagement between the Tánaiste and Deputy O'Callaghan last Wednesday was constructive throughout and entirely focused on ensuring that a commission of investigation would establish the full truth.

"A difference of opinion has arisen about their discussion about the impending 'Prime Time' programme, particularly as to whether mention was made of a Tusla file.

"The Tánaiste is of the view that each of their positions on this aspect of the discussions are genuinely held, and this discrepancy should not stand in the way of investigating these allegations."

What happens next

9am - Ministers arrive at Government Buildings ahead of Cabinet. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will face their Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues to discuss the scandal.

10am - Cabinet meeting should begin. Children Minister Katherine Zappone is to brief ministerial colleagues on her meeting with the McCabes and her knowledge of the controversy.

1pm - The Independent Alliance is to meet to discuss the outcome of the Cabinet meeting.

2pm - The Taoiseach will take Leaders' Questions.

3.45pm - Minister Zappone is next to face a grilling in the Dáil chamber.

Irish Independent

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