Fianna Fáil statement on Tánaiste shocks Fine Gael

Ministers back embattled Fitzgerald but believed FF would back away from its position

A motion of no confidence in Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has been tabled by Sinn Féin. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Ministers rallied around Frances Fitzgerald on Thursday as the Opposition parties moved to remove the Tánaiste from her position.

Ms Fitzgerald has faced continuous questions over her knowledge of a legal strategy imposed by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to undermine Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, which was examining Garda malpractice.

Sinn Féin agreed to table a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald, while Fianna Fáil confirmed they will table their own proposal to express their position.

Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, said the party was united in its approach and had made it clear to the Taoiseach in recent days.

The party does not want a general election but it may be the consequence of its decision, he added.

The statement by Fianna Fáil caused shock within Fine Gael, who believed the party would back away from its position.

The controversy emerged this week when the Department of Justice confirmed Ms Fitzgerald received an email in May 2015 advising her of a legal strategy to undermine Mr McCabe at the commission of inquiry.

It said the Garda legal team was raising a “serious criminal complaint” against Mr McCabe on the authority of the Garda Commissioner. It advised the Tánaiste she had no function in this regard.

While the Tánaiste insisted she did not recall the email or the contents, she was reminded of its existence by the Department on November 16th.

Flanagan knew

It also emerged on Thursday that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan became aware of the correspondence on November 13th. However, neither told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar until November 20th at 11.30pm.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil insist the email proved Ms Fitzgerald was advised of the strategy in 2015 but denied knowledge of it for two years.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin TD and spokesman on justice, insisted ample opportunity had been given to Ms Fitzgerald to be fully transparent. It was regrettable that she has not taken it, Mr Ó Laoghaire added.

Both motions on Ms Fitzgerald will be debated in the Dáil next week.

However, Minister for Health Simon Harris strongly defended Ms Fitzgerald, insisting she had established the Disclosures Tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, to examine all of these matters.

Mr Harris insisted it was not the role of the Dáil to hold a “parallel process” or conduct its own “kangaroo court”.

Ms Fitzgerald had answered all of the questions posed to her, he added.

“The last thing we need is a situation where we do not allow due process and what we allow is snippets of information, allegations, innuendo, partial fact.”

Other defenders

A number of other Ministers publicly backed Ms Fitzgerald after days of intense scrutiny.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government would be weaker without Ms Fitzgerald.

An election would be an over-reaction to what was poor communication between Government departments, Mr Coveney added.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the current Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, defended his decision not to notify the Taoiseach of the existence of the email.

Mr Flanagan was informed on November 13th of the correspondence during a discussion with the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Noel Waters.

In the same conversation, Mr Waters confirmed he was retiring from his position after 40 years in the public service.

Mr Flanagan’s spokesman said he was not informed of the contents of the email until later in the week.