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Saturday 24 August 2019

Revealed: The other ministers who struggled with their emails

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald is not the only politician who has struggled with their emails in recent times.

Two previous scandals involving emails and Fianna Fail ministers garnered very similar responses to those being used by the Tanaiste and Government to defend their actions - or more so inactions - last week.

One of the Tanaiste's predecessors in the Department of Justice, Dermot Ahern, was the first Cabinet member ever contacted by Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Sgt McCabe wrote to the then minister for justice in 2009 to alert him to some of the allegations of Garda misconduct he witnessed while working in the force.

Years later, at the height of the Garda scandals, Mr Ahern was forced to deny any knowledge of the damning information sent to his department.

"To the best of my knowledge, no official, either in the guards or in the department or in the confidential recipient's office, briefed me about any of these allegations," Mr Ahern said.

However, a senior government source yesterday insisted there were emails in the Department of Justice which show Sgt McCabe made contact long before his plight became public knowledge and threatened to cause a general election.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also had a run-in with emails which landed him in hot water while he was the minister for health.

Back in 2005, it emerged elderly patients were being wrongly charged by the State for nursing home beds which should have been free.

It was estimated the controversy would cost the Government €2bn in compensation for people affected by the monumental blunder.

It then emerged Mr Martin and his officials had received a report which outlined the problem almost two years before it became public knowledge.

Mr Martin was severely criticised in the Dail by the Opposition over his failure to act on the report.

The Travers Report, which was carried out after the scandal emerged, was highly critical of the department and Mr Martin. It also revealed conflicting evidence from Mr Martin and senior civil servants involved in issue.

Michael Kelly, the then secretary general of the Department of Health, said he fully briefed Micheal Martin on the illegal charges on at least two occasions.

Kelly said one of those was an oral briefing outside a Management Advisory Committee meeting in December 2003. "I am quite clear that I did alert him to this and I don't have any doubt about that," Mr Kelly said. Mr Martin denied this was the case.

Mr Martin claimed he was emailed the briefing document but did not have time to read and said he left a Department of Health meeting early where it was discussed.

The then Tanaiste, Mary Harney, said there was a "serious conflict of evidence" between Mr Kelly's memory of events and Mr Martin's recollection.

In response to criticism from the Opposition, Mr Martin said "the culture of playing the man and not the ball and foundation-rocking is now so all-pervasive for the opposition that they have no interest in serious debate".

Sunday Independent

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