Frances Fitzgerald accuses Opposition of ‘fake news’ over McCabe case
Former minister said politicians use the shelter of parliament to defame public servants
Frances Fitzgerald resigned as minister last year following controversy over her knowledge of a Garda legal strategy against Sgt McCabe. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald has accused opposition TDs of engaging in “fake news” in the Dáil.
The former minister for justice said it was deeply worrying that politicians were “using the shelter of parliament to defame public servants”.
Ms Fitzgerald made the comments during statements in the Dáil on the Disclosures Tribunal report. The investigation into Garda corruption found whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was smeared by former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.
She said there was a need to reflect on the fact that in “some instances what was in effect fake news came to be accepted as true and acted on to the detriment of others”.
Ms Fitzgerald said “unsupported defamation is walked into our national press wrapped in the cloak of Dáil privilege”.
“Defamation laundering is not what this privilege was designed for. It is tempting to jump to conclusions in complex situations but in both politics and the media this must be tempered by respect for facts and due process.”
She told the House: “Had someone done this outside the House, legal recourse would have been possible, and predictable. But inside the Dáil, it is untouchable but printable.”
Ms Fitzgerald, who established the tribunal, said “those who think that due process and fair procedure can be cast aside for reasons of political expediency do a disservice to the values of our democracy”.
A “very understandable concern at how Sgt McCabe was treated sometimes set at nought the right of others to a good name” and “we were in danger of trying to remedy one injustice by creating others”.
Opposition TDs were “unwilling to await Judge Charleton looking at these matters, despite the fact that he was doing so at the request of the Oireachtas”.
Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness described the Government’s apology to Sgt McCabe as the “most blatant, brazen piece of hypocrisy I have seen in a long time”. The time for an apology was when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a minister described Sgt McCabe as distinguished, but the Government sat on its hands.
He said the Department of Justice remained dysfunctional with no evidence of reforms under way.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she had discussed the Disclosures Tribunal report with the board of Tusla on Thursday morning and had asked for a formal response.
She said the report “makes clear that the root cause of Tusla’s failures in this case was not some dark conspiracy but simply incompetence”. She said the Tusla board would oversee the reforms.
“I find it appalling that if the case had been dealt with in accordance with existing policies then none of this might have been necessary,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald resigned as minister last year following controversy over her knowledge of a Garda legal strategy against Sgt McCabe.
The tribunal cleared her of any wrongdoing and accepted that her actions were correct at all times.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the Government would “ensure we deliver the planned transformation of An Garda Síochána in order that it becomes a model of policing excellence by the time it reaches its centenary in 2022”.
Mr McGuinness said: “Sgt McCabe was telling his story for 12 years, describing what was happening and highlighting issues in the force, yet the Government stood idly by and did nothing.
“The Government sat on its hands and watched as that family was put through torture during those years.”
The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said that, like Sgt McCabe, other State employees had come forward and given disclosures. “In some cases they are professionals and their careers have been ruined.”
The State “could not beat Maurice McCabe but there are many others out there who the Government seems prepared to beat”.