Mary Lou McDonald tells Tánaiste ‘time for you to go’

Fitzgerald gives impassioned defence of her role as minister in heated Dáil exchanges

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Thursday.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Thursday.

 

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald passionately defended her response to a campaign to discredit a Garda whistleblower as Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told her it was “time for you to go”.

In a trenchant Dáil contribution, Ms Fitzgerald insisted that “I set the tone, I took the actions and I initiated a whole range of initiatives” to address the concerns raised by Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe about malpractice in the force.

“I am not trying to hide anything. I was not part of any conspiracy to undermine Sgt McCabe, quite the contrary,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said she set up the Policing Authority and included in ethics legislation specific measures around how whistleblowers should be dealt with in An Garda Síochána.

Controversy has engulfed Ms Fitzgerald over the last week about her knowledge of and response to an email relating to the O’Higgins commission into Garda malpractice in the Cavan-Monaghan district.

The email dealt with a Garda legal strategy to challenge the credibility and motivation of Sgt McCabe and it referred to the intention to raise serious criminal allegations against him at the inquiry.

Before Sinn Féin tabled its motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald, Ms McDonald warned her in the Dáil: “You may think, Tánaiste, that you’ll weather this storm, that you’ll ride it out, but you won’t, because the terrible vista of a conspiracy to malign a good man, to smear him as a sex abuser in order to shut him up, is not some minor political episode that can be simply brushed away.”

Due process

Warning Ms McDonald that she should not malign her either, Ms Fitzgerald said: “I won’t take a lecture from you on due process and fairness.”

She said due process had been the hallmark of the way she approached the entire situation.

The email was sent to her on May 15th, 2015, which was three days before the Garda sergeant was cross-examined.

Ms Fitzgerald also strenuously denied a charge from Fianna Fail justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan that “efforts were made to suppress this email”, which Ms Fitzgerald did not remember when she was shown it last Thursday.

The Department of Justice had it for a week before that. Mr O’Callaghan asked why she did not tell the Taoiseach about it before he addressed the Dáil.

Ms Fitzgerald insisted: “There were no efforts by me to suppress that email. I don’t believe there were by other people either. There was a process being followed.”

Mr O’Callaghan told Ms Fitzgerald: “You were privy to that strategy and our criticism is that you did nothing to stop it.”

He said: “You were sent this email so that you could either give a green light or a red light. You could have expressed reservations about the legal strategy.”

But Ms Fitzgerald insisted it would have been illegal for her to intervene in the Garda strategy.

“I did not interfere with the legal strategy. That would have been illegal. I would have criminal for me to try influence the legal strategy of An Garda Síochána.”

She also said that this week she asked the official who sent her the controversial email in May 2015 why he had sent it to her.

He said it was for information, Ms Fitzgerald said. “But to suggest that I did nothing about whistleblowers is completely wrong,” she said.

But Ms McDonald said she was taking none of the Tánaiste’s “bluster” and “long enunciation of your virtues in office”.

She described Ms Fitzgerald not remembering the email as “fairy tales.”