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Sunday 17 December 2017

Taoiseach and Tánaiste leave Zappone isolated as Cabinet left struggling with Tusla crisis

Web of deceit at heart of Garda smear probe

In happier times: Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Katherine Zappone last year Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
In happier times: Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Katherine Zappone last year Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

The stability of the minority Government has been thrown into serious doubt over its disastrous handling of the Tusla scandal.

Fine Gael ministers have reacted with fury after it emerged Children's Minister Katherine Zappone failed to inform the Cabinet of the litany of blunders by the State's Child and Family Agency.

Both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald last night moved to distance themselves of any blame - leaving the Independent minister isolated and humiliated.

The revelation that Tusla circulated a file containing a false allegation of child sexual abuse against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe has plunged the agency into crisis.

A full investigation is now under way into how a counsellor mistakenly "copy and pasted" allegations of child molestation on to the McCabe file, which is believed to have been seen by a number of gardaí.

Read more: Taoiseach and Tánaiste 'knew about Zappone's meeting with whistleblower - but did not know about Tusla blunder'

Mr Justice Peter Charleton
Mr Justice Peter Charleton

But the ramifications of the scandal are now threatening the future of the minority administration, with Fine Gael ministers lining up yesterday to attack Ms Zappone.

Several ministers confirmed that Ms Zappone sat silently as the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation into an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe were agreed at last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. She then travelled to the United States to visit relatives.

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Ms Zappone defended her handling of the case, insisting she had informed "relevant government colleagues" of the facts. Her spokesman later declined to say who these individuals were.

However, the Tánaiste was categorical last night that she had no knowledge of the Tusla link to the alleged smear campaign until it was reported in the media on Thursday.

"She of course did not inform me about any details in relation to confidential Tusla records," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Earlier in the Dáil on Thursday, she twice denied any knowledge of a Tusla link.

Read more: Fitzgerald defends call not to reveal baseless rape claim was at inquiry's core

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said that he was also not aware, although both admit knowing about the meeting between Ms Zappone and Sgt McCabe - the country's most high-profile whisteblower - in advance.

The meeting, which was requested by Sgt McCabe's wife Lorraine, took place on January 25.

At that meeting Sgt McCabe outlined to the minister Tusla's handling of the case but Ms Zappone did not alert the Justice Minister, who was at the time studying the review of two protected disclosures made in relation to Sgt McCabe's case.

Well-placed sources told the Irish Independent last night that the Tusla files on Sgt McCabe would have quickly emerged during the course of Mr Justice Peter Charleton's investigation - but accepted it would have been better if the Justice Minister knew in advance of setting the terms of reference.

Read more: Zappone: I won't reveal identities of 'relevant government colleagues'

Opposition parties were yesterday accusing Ms Fitzgerald of misleading the Dáil when she said she had no knowledge of State agencies outside of An Garda Síochána being linked to the alleged smear campaign.

However, sources close to the Tánaiste last night said her Dáil statement was completely accurate at the time and she had done "absolutely nothing wrong".

Senior Fine Gael figures lashed out at Ms Zappone, with several ministers accusing her of effectively blindsiding the Justice Minister.

Several TDs also said they believed the saga had moved the administration closer to collapse. Fianna Fáil described the situation as "crazy" and said Ms Zappone's credibility was now "at risk". But Micheál Martin's party has decided to adopt a 'wait and see' approach.

The Cabinet will meet on Tuesday to discuss expanding the terms of reference to include the Tusla link.

Read more: Whistleblower Garda officer to get full apology over untrue alleged rape report

Irish Independent

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