Taoiseach Enda Kenny has expressed regret that he gave wrong information about his contacts with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone regarding her meeting with garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe and his family.
The Government has come under pressure to clear up a number of apparent inconsistencies over when Ms Zappone informed Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald about the meeting, in which she learned of false allegations of child abuse made about Sgt McCabe to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
The Cabinet, which met earlier on Tuesday, is to meet again on Thursday to discuss further issues raised by the Independent Alliance regarding the controversy.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Kenny referred to the “information about the Minister’s meeting with the McCabe family. I have spoken to her about that.”
“She notified my office. My office told me of that information and I put that in the public domain and I regret that, I shouldn’t have,” he said.
The Taoiseach said there were “many people who’ve been here before me for many years who have made mistakes”.
Mr Kenny, who earlier confirmed the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into allegations of a smear campaign by senior gardaí against Sgt McCabe, said he hoped the terms of reference could be agreed within 48 hours by the Oireachtas and that the tribunal could get going.
Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy told the Taoiseach "you're well known for having a casual relationship with the truth".
“I suggest the reason you made the mea culpa here isn’t that you remembered what happened but that you got caught out. You got caught out by the contradiction between that you said and what Minister Zappone said.”
Ms Zappone said on Monday that she had told the Taoiseach about the Tusla allegations before last week's cabinet meeting, an apparent contradiction of the Taoiseach's denials that he knew about the scandal before an RTÉ Prime Time programme aired on Thursday.
Mr Kenny said the terms of reference for the tribunal would be worked out, as well as the details and the structure, which would address the central issue of truth and justice. This was, he added, whether there was an organised smear of Sgt McCabe by senior Garda officers.
“I do want to make it clear there can be no bias or no over reliance upon anybody in the determination of how these terms of reference are set out and the purposes for which they are intended,’’ he said.
The Government had intended to carry out a commission of investigation before Tuesday’s announcement. Tribunals of inquiry are held in public whereas commissions of investigation are held in private. Parties before a tribunal have a right to legal representation and to cross-examine witnesses and contest evidence that affects their reputation. With commissions, the right to cross-examine may be granted but is not a given.
Attempt to undermine integrity
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin said there was no doubt there was an attempt to undermine the integrity of Sgt McCabe because he was proving to be a major thorn on the side of senior people in An Garda Síochána.
The terms of reference for the tribunal proposed by Fianna Fáil include all contact between Tusla and gardaí. It asks that the creation of the Tusla file on Sgt McCabe be examined.
It says contact between the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and former commissioner Martin Callinan with ministers must be examined. Mr Martin said the Government must move to ensure Mr McCabe is not subjected to any more untruths.
The Independent Alliance said it had been in touch with Mr McCabe and would be representing his view at the Cabinet table. Independent TD and Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath said Sgt McCabe “deserves truth” and “deserves justice”.
Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the McCabe family deserved a public inquiry.
“A man and his family have gone to hell and back and Government must and will respond in a manner which enables a platform of truth to be established. The culture of secrecy must end. Both human decency and the public good demand no less.”
Sinn Féín deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told RTÉ's News At One:"I don't know of any other walk of life, where a group of people, and I'm referring to the Government could fail so spectacularly and still remain in place," she said.
“We have witnessed here an allegation of collusion, between State agencies, elements of the media, elements of the political establishment in a relentless campaign to destroy a law-abiding man, the likes of which we’ve never seen.
“The Government has responded to that scandal with more evasion, more spinning and more cover up.”
On Tuesday evening on RTÉ's Six-One News, another Garda whistleblower, John Wilson, called on the Government to consider the position of the Garda Commissioner.
“This is the biggest scandal in the history of our Republic,” he said. “I don’t believe the Government need to wait for the outcome of the inquiry or commission of investigation to determine the future of Noirin O’Sullivan.”