Taoiseach has ‘confidence’ in Tánaiste but criticises Department of Justice

Varadkar ‘happy to correct the record’ on timeline of knowledge of legal strategy

Leo Varadkar: “I’m not satisfied with the fact that on a number of occasions, at least two occasions in the past week, I’ve been given incomplete information by the Department of Justice.” Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Leo Varadkar: “I’m not satisfied with the fact that on a number of occasions, at least two occasions in the past week, I’ve been given incomplete information by the Department of Justice.” Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed confidence in the Tánaiste – but has criticised the Department of Justice.

“Yes I’ve confidence in her,” he told the Dáil on Wednesday. “But no I’m not satisfied with the fact that on a number of occasions, at least two occasions in the past week, I’ve been given incomplete information by the Department of Justice.”

He had received incorrect information on the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), and on another occasion he had received additional information after the fact.

That was why he said he had called for the department to make a further trawl of its documentation and had called for an update on the implementation of the Toland report, an independent review group, on the operations of the department.

He was challenged by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald had been given two opportunities to answer questions and had not done so.

Legal strategy

She highlighted that Ms Fitzgerald received an email on May 15th, 2015, about the legal strategy to undermine the credibility of Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

But she said Sgt McCabe was cross-examined three days later, on May 18th.

“The Tánaiste knew the nature of the legal strategy and knew it prior to the cross-examination, and chose to do nothing about it.”

Ms McDonald said it was now a question of the “judgment, competence and credibility of the Tánaiste”.

She asked Mr Varadkar whether he still had “confidence in the Tánaiste – and how can she remain on as Tánaiste?”

Mr Varadkar has said he is “happy to correct the record” if he had previously said the Tánaiste only knew about the legal strategy by the Garda commissioner’s team in dealing with Sgt McCabe after he was cross-examined.

Ms McDonald said she had received a copy of the record of the Dáil from the Labour Party. “It reflects the fact that you’re misleading the Dáil again or you’re being more than disingenuous,” she told Mr Varadkar. “Your initial position was that she didn’t know until after the cross-examination.”

Correct record

Mr Varadkar said he did not “honestly recall” mentioning the cross-examination.

“But if it is the case that I specifically referred to the cross-examination that the Tánaiste didn’t know until after the cross-examination, then I’m happy to correct the record in that regard.

“If it’s what I said then, I’m happy to correct the record in that regard.”

Earlier, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it was the “most explosive issue” in the past three years and the Tánaiste “stands idly by”.

He said Ms Fitzgerald stated she supported Sgt McCabe and other whistleblowers.

“She may not have thrown him to the wolves, but she allowed them free rein,” Mr Martin said. “The Tánaiste kept quiet for four days. God knows would it ever have been sent to the tribunal had Primetime not revealed it?”

Contents disputed

Mr Varadkar said he spoke to Sgt McCabe on Tuesday night and he “disputes the content” of the email.

“He says the allegations were not raised and the transcripts will show that.”

The Taoiseach said it was not even known “if the contents were accurate”.

Mr Varadkar stressed that each party to the commission had a legal team and the Tánaiste could not intervene in the legal strategies of other departments.

He said Ms Fitzgerald had established the Policing Authority and brought in Transparency International to ensure the protection of whistleblowers. “She did what a Minister should do, which is try to change things.”