Flanagan apologises for ‘intemperate comments’ to Alan Kelly
Minister for Justice acknowledges he should have handled TD’s McCabe questions better
Charlie Flanagan: “I had been told by some people in my constituency that Deputy Kelly had made very negative comments about me in their presence.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
It was one of a series of apologies made by Mr Flanagan as he dealt with the fallout from the Garda whistleblower controversy, which led to the resignation of the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on Tuesday.
The Minister recalled in the House that he had said on November 15th that Mr Kelly was engaged in a smear campaign against him when Mr Kelly asked questions of the Department of Justice about Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
“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, that to engage on issues under the remit of the Charleton tribunal would breach the House’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.
He said he would now ask the Ceann Comhairle to assist in providing guidance in terms of how to respond to issues falling within the tribunal’s terms of reference.
He thanked Mr Kelly for his parliamentary questions, which led to the unearthing of an email that had not been sent to the Charleton tribunal.
“As the House is aware, the Taoiseach subsequently ordered a search and retrieval of documents which resulted in the retrieval of a further email chain, now with the tribunal,’’ he added.
Shocked and horrified
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 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 that 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.