Leo Varadkar: Support for Frances Fitzgerald not ‘blind loyalty’

Taoiseach says Government has not been weakened by controversies

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference with  European Council president  Donald Tusk on Friday. Photograph: Laura Hutton/PA Wire.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference with European Council president Donald Tusk on Friday. Photograph: Laura Hutton/PA Wire.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not believe the Government has been weakened by the events of the past week and the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald as tánaiste.

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane that it had been an eventful period but it was not the first time an Irish government had gone through a “rough week like this, or a political crisis if you want to call it”.

“But we are still the Government and I am determined to make this Government last.’’

Mr Varadkar said he had defended Ms Fitzgerald amid controversy over her role in the handling of garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe because he felt she had not done any wrong.

“It is not blind loyalty,’’ he added.

He said Ms Fitzgerald was a cautious politician who followed procedure and advice.

Ms Fitzgerald resigned as tánaiste and Minister for Business on Tuesday amid controversy surrounding her knowledge of the “aggressive” legal strategy being pursed by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan against Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, which examined garda malpractice.

She was facing confidence motions from Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, the second of which could have brought down the minority Government had it passed.

Understanding

The Taoiseach said the Government’s relationship with Fianna Fáil was “ok’’.

“The more and more that I deal with Micheál Martin, the more and more I understand him,” he added. “And I think we understand each other.’’

He said the controversy had its origins going back some years when Sgt McCabe first started blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in An Garda Síochána.

“It is something that has been going on far too long and needs to be dealt with,’’ he added. “We are going to need to see a lot of reform, particularly in the Department of Justice and in the gardaí.’’

The Taoiseach denied a claim by the Association of Higher and Civil Public Servants (ACHPS) that a “witch hunt’’ was underway for the sake of political expediency. He said there would not be no “witch hunt’’ and nobody would be scapegoated.

He said a senior counsel would undertake an investigation into why documents relating to the McCabe case in the Department of Justice were not handed over to the Charleton tribunal, which is investigating allegations of a smear campaign against whistlblowers, and whether it was an error or wilful neglect.

“People will be treated fairly, but there will also be accountability,” he added.

He said there had been failings in the department.

‘Very exposed’

He said he had to correct the Dáil record because he had relayed information to the House based on briefings from the department that were incorrect.

He said it was “an extremely unpleasant experience’’ to find the House had not been properly informed. “You feel very exposed,’’ he added.

He said he had not felt out of his depth during recent events, adding it was the first time he had faced a ministerial resignation.

“I also want my Ministers, backbenchers and TDs and Senators in my party to know I am not the kind of person who is going to require them to resign very quickly because there is a controversy,’’ he added.

“I am the kind of person who will try to get to the truth and all the facts and will give them support.’’

On Brexit, Mr Varadkar said he did not think Ireland would have to use its veto to delay the talks on Britain’s departure from the EU. He said the veto is something that is used when countries are isolated but that Ireland had 26 countries and wider European solidarity behind it when it came to issues such as the Border.