Minister says Alan Kelly is engaging in smear campaign against him

Charlie Flanagan angry over Labour TD’s questions regarding Maurice McCabe

Former cabinet colleagues Charlie Flanagan and Alan Kelly have clashed in recent days. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Former cabinet colleagues Charlie Flanagan and Alan Kelly have clashed in recent days. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has accused his former cabinet colleague Alan Kelly of engaging in a “smear campaign” against him professionally and personally.

Mr Flanagan made a heated intervention in the Dáil as Labour leader Brendan Howlin questioned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Howlin was asking Mr Varadkar when Mr Flanagan and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, his predecessor as minister for justice, knew about the legal strategy pursued by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to “go after” whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

The commission examined allegations of Garda corruption and was the precursor to the current Charleton tribunal, which is looking into allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl reminded TDs to be “exceedingly careful” not to undermine the tribunal with their remarks.

Mr Flanagan said that if there were matters germane to the tribunal “that is the place for them”.

“I ask Deputy Kelly to desist from engaging in a smear campaign against me both personally and professionally,” he said.

Explosive allegation

The Taoiseach had reiterated what he said in the Dáil on Tuesday that Ms Fitzgerald, who was minister for justice at the time, had “no hand, act or part in determining the legal strategy pursued by the former commissioner”.

He said he had also been informed that the Department of Justice was told about the approach by the commissioner’s senior counsel after the cross-examination had already taken place.

Mr Varadkar said there had been newspaper articles and briefings and suggestions of “an allegation so explosive that it might bring down the Government.

“If the Labour Party has an allegation to make, it should make it clearly in order that we can respond,” he said.

Mr Flanagan then called a point of order and intervened to say: “I will not have my good name and professional reputation traduced by Deputy Kelly both inside this House and outside this House”.

The Ceann Comhairle said “Deputy Kelly has not said anything in my hearing”.

But the Labour TD had asked a number of written parliamentary questions about when the Minister and his predecessor and the Department of Justice were informed about the former commissioner’s legal strategy, which challenged Sgt McCabe’s credibility and motivation.

Mr Flanagan said he had already made it clear that he had no involvement in this. But he said “this does not suit Deputy Kelly’s agenda”.

Saved State money

Mr Howlin said he recalled a tribunal finding that “if people had answered questions here it would have saved the State both millions and time”.

He had no accusation to make against anybody. “I just want the truth” about the department’s state of knowledge, he said.

Mr Howlin said the cross-examination of Sgt McCabe took place in 2015, and the Taoiseach had told him that Ms Fitzgerald only became aware of this when it came into the public domain a year later.

He asked if the strategy was kept from the Tánaiste.

The Taoiseach told him that the answer he was giving was the one given to him.

However, Mr Varadkar added that “the department is a big place. It is not a person. It is a body with hundreds of staff.”

“Can I put my hand on my heart and say that there is not one person somewhere who might have been told something by someone. I cannot give the House that answer, but what I have been told is that the department was not made aware of it until after the fact and the Tánaiste did not become aware of it until around the time it entered the public domain.”