Charlie Flanagan apologises in Dáil for department’s failures
Taoiseach not happy at Department of Justice’s failure to fully answer questions
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has apologised in the Dáil for failings at the Department of Justice.
He said he was bitterly disappointed at the revelations of the past number of days, which had led to the resignation Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on Tuesdya.
Mr Flanagan said questions over the treatment of whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe could have been handled better.
“Fundamentally, when everything else is peeled away, the essence of this issue is that Sergeant McCabe and his family must have truth and justice,” he said.
In a statement to the Dáil , Mr Flanagan said he was considering other reforms that he could introduce to protect gardaí who are victims of bullying or harassment to complement whistleblower laws.
“There are stark lessons to be learned here and I intend to take on board these lessons and do my very best to ensure this does not happen again,” he said.
The secretary general of the Department of Justice, Noel Waters, who had already told the Minister he would be retiring, has brought forward his departure from the job to Tuesday. Mr Waters was due to resign in February but confirmed he will leave the role immediately. This was a decision he had made of his own volition, he added.
Mr Flanagan said he was “shocked and, frankly, horrified’’ there were records in the Department of Justice that should have been provided to the tribunal.
“As a Minister I have repeatedly emphasised the vital importance the vital importance of full co-operation by the department with the tribunal,’’ he added.
“I have taken every opportunity to stress this within the department and it is an understatement to say I am bitterly disappointed by the events of recent weeks,’’ he said.
He said it had been a major challenge at every step to obtain complete information in a timely manner.
On a few occasions recently, information had been provided to him, to the Taoiseach, and then to this House, and subsequently proven to be inaccurate.
“This is completely unacceptable and I wish to formally apologise to the Taoiseach, to you Ceann Comhairle and to the House,’’ he added.
He said in recent days it had been clear information in the possession of journalists and members of the Opposition had not been forthcoming to him as Minister.
Mr Flanagan denied he had sat next to the Taoiseach and allowed him to misinform the House.
He said on Monday, November 13th, he was in his Laois constituency when he received a telephone call from the department’s secretary general, Noel Waters, to say he was retiring.
Mr Waters made reference to an email pertaining to the O’Higgins commission and Sgt Maurice McCabe which had been discovered in the Department.
Mr Flanagan said he had responded that anything relevant should be sent to the tribunal.
He had “simply missed the significance” of the email, which he viewed as just another addition to the 230-plus documents already discovered to the tribunal from the department.
“I did not see the actual email until a week later, on the night of Monday November 20th, and that is why I did not raise it with the Taoiseach,’’ he added.
Questions have been asked over Mr Flanagan’s handling of parliamentary over questions over the treatment of Sgt McCabe, and when he knew about emails from 2015 which outlined the aggressive legal strategy against the whistleblower.
The Department of Justice also admitted that three emails with information about the approach had not been transferred to the Disclosures Tribunal, headed by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Mr Flanagan would apologise for his department’s failure to answer questions fully in recent weeks.
He said Mr Flanagan would offer further assurance that questions not answered yet would be answered.
“In future, he will ensure, as will his secretary general, that questions are properly answered,” Mr Varadkar added.
“I am certainly not in any way happy about how the past couple of weeks have played out, notwithstanding the enormous distraction that it has been for the Government and the country.”
He said had all questions been answered, and emails found, seven or 10 days ago, it would not have been necessary for the former tánaiste to tender her resignation.
He said there was a human cost, not just for Ms Fitzgerald and her family, friends and colleagues, but also to Sgt Maurice McCabe and his family.
Mr Flanagan also apologised to Labour TD Alan Kelly for “intemperate comments’’ in the Dail.
He recalled in the House he had said on November 15th Mr Kelly was engaged in a smear campaign against him.
“I had been told by some people in my constituency that Deputy Kelly had made very negative comments about me in their presence,’’ he added.
“I always considered Deputy Kelly a good colleague, both in parliament and in government, and I confess that I was taken aback and offended when these allegations were made to me.’’
Mr Flanagan said he fully accepted he reacted badly and he apologised to Mr Kelly and to the House and withdrew his comments.
He said he had been consistently advised, when replying in the Dáil to Mr Kelly’s questions in the Dail, that to engage on issues under the remit of the Disclosures Tribunal would breach the Dáil’s standing orders.
He was also advised it would improperly encroach on the tribunal’s workings and would amount to a parallel process, thereby undermining it.
“It is only right to acknowledge that Deputy Kelly’s parliamentary questions should have been better handled by me,’’ he added.
In a statement released shortly before 6pm on Tuesday, Mr Waters said his department had been “subject to a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today”.
In a letter to staff, he said: “I want to assure you that, in so far as is humanly possible, this Department has sought at all times to act appropriately, upholding the law and the institution of the State. Many of the claims about how the Department has acted that have been made in the media and in the Dáil are not true, and I am confident that the processes that the Taoiseach has announced will show that to be the case.”
He expressed gratitude to the people working behind the scenes in his office.
“The Department makes an important contribution to Irish society, a contribution that more often than not goes unseen and unnoticed. It is important however, that all of you know that your dedication and hard work is valued and that your individual and team efforts in the different parts of our organisation are meaningful and important. Please do not lose sight of your contribution to public service and continue to give your best.”
“As an organisation we are committed to making the necessary changes in the way we do our work. I firmly believe we are making significant progress on that score. We remain committed to living the values in our Culture Charter and I know you will all continue to work to further embed those values across the Department.”