Miriam Lord: Kenny and Fitzgerald are put on the rack

There were astonishing Dáil scenes as the Taoiseach came under fire over McCabe case

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has admitted that he was guilty of 'not giving accurate information' with regard to how he learned of a meeting between Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

 

And on the third attempt the Taoiseach made a total hames of the job again.

The Fine Gael backbenchers, those who hadn’t already left the chamber, looked thoroughly fed up. How, in the name of God, had they ended up in the middle of this shambles?

It was bad enough that their party leader had been forced into the Dáil to explain himself. But when he did, Enda Kenny still left plenty of room for confusion.

When he completed his short exercise in bamboozlement, Kenny resumed his seat. He sat down to a sullen silence. It emanated from his own TDs.

We are always told that in politics if you’re explaining you’re losing. By that simple yardstick, Kenny lost big-time yesterday.

To add insult to injury, his Tánaiste, also hauled in to account for her movements, became embroiled in an extraordinary back and forth exchange with her Opposition shadow about which of them was telling the truth.

If you’re explaining you’re losing. By that simple yardstick, Kenny lost big-time yesterday

That will have rankled with members of Fine Gael. They blame Fianna Fáil for frogmarching them, and their leader, into the embarrassing episode. And some, perhaps a growing band of them, also blame Kenny for allowing Micheál Martin to do it to him.

The scenes in the Dáil were astonishing. “Statements of clarification on statements” was the issue up for debate.

The Taoiseach and his deputy leader were on the rack, under sustained fire about what they knew and/or professed to know about a nasty smear campaign waged against a serving Garda sergeant who told inconvenient truths about how the force is run.

As the evening progressed Kenny looked more and more deflated as the questions kept coming, sometimes slumped in his seat, growing redder in the face as the onslaught continued. What did he know? When did he know it? Who said what to whom?

The argument went round and round, members of the Government party deserting the chamber as the Taoiseach’s discomfiture grew. Frances Fitzgerald looked distraught.

Queries rained down

Taoiseach and Tánaiste hissed words at each other as the queries rained down. Sometimes Simon Harris, the Minister for Health, leaned across to contribute an observation.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, the fourth in this quartet summoned to make statements about statements, emerged relatively unscathed from the experience.

Opposition speakers commended her for her openness and clarity. On the other hand, whether by accident or design, Kenny and Fitzgerald seemed shifty by comparison.

This could be utterly unfair on them. But clarity from the pair of them was in short supply.

One particular question was asked of the Taoiseach first thing in the morning. It was still being shouted at him in the chamber as the night wore on.

It seemed a relatively simple one, but not for Kenny, who squirmed in his seat and either ignored it or deflected when it was asked.

A number of Deputies from various parties asked it – when did you first hear that false rumours about Sgt Maurice McCabe relating to an allegation of serious sexual abuse were being circulated?

Here is Róisín Shortall attempting and failing as the clock crept towards 8pm.

“When did you first become aware of the scurrilous rumours?”

She got nothing back, and followed the lead set by those many TDS who had gone before her by firing the question again and again. Then she too gave up.

“Point of Order,” she said in exasperation to the Ceann Comhairle. “The Taoiseach is refusing to answer the questions.”

The best he could manage in the face of this recurring demand, the only reply he could occasionally manage, was to angrily retort that he does not deal in rumour and first heard of the smear allegations on Prime Time.

So, he had already forgotten what Labour’s Brendan Howlin told him in the Dáil the day before about.

Into a hole

At the start of the day the Taoiseach dug himself pretty smartly into a hole by contradicting his own account of what the Minister for Children told him before and after she met McCabe and what information she gave him.

Last night, by the time whole chaotic mess was adjourned (for the time being), he seemed even deeper in that hole.

“”You’re well known for having a casual relationship with the truth” is what Paul Murphy of the AAA/PBP told hapless Enda at Leaders’ Questions, excoriating him for giving a wrong account of what had transpired between him and Zappone.

“Mea Culpa” was what the Taoiseach said earlier to the House, slapping his hand to his heart as he spoke.

“I am guilty here of not giving accurate information,” he confessed, explaining he said Zappone had told him personally about meeting McCabe but “she is very clear that she did not tell me that she intended to meet Sgt McCabe but she did tell her official to tell my office, so I regret that”.

In fact the Taoiseach just didn’t get his cast of characters mixed up. When interviewed on radio on Sunday, Enda couldn’t resist gilding the lily.

It wasn’t a case of naming the wrong name, rather he created a little story to bolster his description of a meeting that never actually happened.

Didn’t he even tell Zappone (in his own head) to make sure and keep an account of her meeting with McCabe?

That little exchange never happened. The Taoiseach made it up.

Return visit

Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar, who was not present at Leaders’ Questions, slipped into the chamber in the late afternoon when Zappone was taking ministerial questions.

He sat in with her for over an hour. But he didn’t make it in time for the Taoiseach’s return visit in the evening.

Fianna Fáil, meanwhile, is championing the case of McCabe. Better late than never, might be what Clare Daly and Mick Wallace might say.

The two TDs have been knocking their heads off a brick wall for nearly a decade warning that the McCabe story was far too serious to go away.

They allowed themselves a few rueful smiles as the pandemonium they predicted so long so was unfolding in front of them.

And now we are going to have a tribunal of inquiry. One resisted for so long by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. So, is there anything to be said for another tribunal?

The Taoiseach now wants to set one up as soon as possible. He mentioned 48 hours.

By which point, the Government can take refuge in the erroneous excuse peddled by Fianna Fáil when Bertie Ahern was making a show of himself in a tribunal by insisting they can make no further comment while it is under way.

Where the future of the government is concerned, Fianna Fáil do not want an election any time soon.

But where the future of Kenny is concerned, the odds on a change at the top have considerably shortened after Tuesday’s bizarre carry-on in the Dáil.

And why did he sound like he and his Minister have something to hide? Why are they making things so difficult for themselves?