Charlie Flanagan under pressure over McCabe emails
Labour and Sinn Féin question Minister for Justice’s suitability for office
On November 15th, Charlie Flanagan, pictured, accused Alan Kelly of smearing him. “I will not have my good name and reputation traduced by Deputy Kelly both inside this house and outside this house,” he said. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Following the resignation of his predecessor Frances Fitzgerald, the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is now coming under considerable Opposition pressure in relation to his response to questions about Garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe.
Both the Labour party justice spokesman Alan Kelly as well as Sinn Féin have questioned his suitability for office, particularly for his delay of a week in informing the Taoiseach of the existence of a 2015 email disclosing the Garda’s aggressive legal strategy towards Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission investigating alleged Garda malpractice in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
However, senior Fianna Fáil sources have said that there is no appetite in the party to pursue Mr Flanagan. In addition, his very full and abject apology in the Dáil on Tuesday night has been peceived as an action that will help to draw a line under the issue for him.
In early November, Mr Kelly submitted a series of parliamentary questions clearly based on very detailed and specific information he had received from a source. He asked Mr Flanagan about a communication on May 15th, 2015, regarding the O’Higgins Commission. Mr Kelly knew that this email disclosed that an aggressive legal strategy was being pursued by the Garda’s legal team at the commission.
Mr Flanagan refused to answer the question but made general reference to the separate legal relationship of justice and the Garda.
On November 14th, Mr Kelly complained: “The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has a career-defining decision to make now. Is he going to as Taoiseach uphold the constitution and respect the democratic institutions of this state by ensuring that the Department of Justice answers all my questions in full. If he doesn’t, this issue will follow him. It will not go away.”
In an angry exchange on November 15th, Mr Flanagan accused him of smearing him. “I will not have my good name and reputation traduced by Deputy Kelly both inside this house and outside this house,” he said.
However, two days previously, Mr Flanagan had indeed been informed about that email, by the secretary general of the Department of Justice Noel Waters. However, in the same conversation, Mr Waters told him he was retiring.
Mr Flanagan sat beside Mr Varadkar the next day at Leader’s Questions in the Dáil when the Taoiseach responded to the questions and made no reference to the email.
Indeed, it took a week for Mr Flanagan to inform the Taoiseach. Last night he said he had been so taken aback by Mr Waters telling him he was retiring that he “missed the significance of the email”. He did tell Mr Waters to send it to the tribunal.
“I did not see the actual email until a week later. That is why I did not raise it with the Taoiseach.”
He apologised to Mr Kelly on two counts, first for his outburst against him in the Dáil; the second for the failure of the Department to answer those questions, by resorting to the argument that such an action would amount to a “parallel process” with the Charleton tribunal.
He said there were stark lessons to be learned and he would ensure it would not happen again.