Frances Fitzgerald’s career hangs in balance over email

Lack of recollection of email about Maurice McCabe may prompt no-confidence motion

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald faces questions from opposition parties after Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe disputed her account of his treatment at the O’Higgins commission.

 

The ministerial career of Frances Fitzgerald hangs in the balance on Wednesday morning, as the procession of Garda scandals continues its wrecking ball progress through Irish politics.

After a taoiseach, a minister for justice, two Garda commissioners, the coincidental but not inconvenient retirement of two secretaries general in the Department of Justice and the one-time Garda confidential recipient (remember him?), the latest head on the block is the Tánaiste. A former minister for justice, she suffered a fraught day at Leinster House which saw her subjected to an hour of questions in the Dáil last night.

Fitzgerald just about came through the question-and-answer session last night, insisting she had forgotten a crucial email sent to her in May 2015, bringing to her attention allegations against the Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe which then Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s lawyers had raised in an attempt to discredit McCabe’s evidence. McCabe was giving evidence of Garda wrongdoing to the O’Higgins Commission at the time.

Fitzgerald had previously denied being aware of the Garda’s approach at the commission until a year later.

Fitzgerald stuck to her story – derided as either unlikely or incompetent by several TDs – but while there was no killer blow to her during a difficult session, she left several questions unanswered. They are likely to return in the coming days.

Extremely incurious

Her explanation remains that she was extremely incurious about matters which might have been unprofitable to be too inquisitive about. It’s a thin defensive line, but it held – just about.

But more serious offensives may be on the way. To outsiders, it may be just the latest instalment in the complex story of who exactly knew what about a story with too many twists and turns to follow.

But perhaps crucially, the political context has changed.

There is no other plausible interpretation of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s words and deeds in recent days but that he has been trying to insulate himself from any fallout from the affair.

Repeatedly he has stressed his own hands are clean. Whatever else, he’s not to blame. Varadkar is evidently thinking a few moves ahead. And that does not bode well for his embattled Minister.

Inevitable resignation

He fears, as do other Ministers, the following sequence of events: a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence during its Private Members’ time next week; a decision by Fianna Fáil that it cannot express confidence in Fitzgerald; and then the inevitable resignation.

Fianna Fáil held its fire when this issue last ignited in February – a forbearance on Micheál Martin’s part that many of his TDs now regret. That makes a repeat unlikely.

Sinn Féin will discuss a possible no-confidence motion at a meeting on Wednesday morning, two party sources said on Tuesday night. If it goes down, Fitzgerald’s prospects look grim indeed.

“She’s a lovely lady,” said one Fianna Fáil TD. “But we all know the business we are in.”