Poll shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are neck-and-neck

Frances Fitzgerald under pressure over Garda legal strategy on whistleblower

 

As efforts to resolve the political impasse continues a poll released on Saturday evening showed Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to be practically neck and neck.

The survey – by Red C for the Sunday Business Post – put Fine Gael on 27 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 26. It is a drop of two per cent on the last poll for Fine Gael and an increase of one for Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin is at 16 per cent, Independents 10 per cent, Labour 6 per cent, the Independent Alliance and Greens at four, and Social Democrats and AAA-PBP at three each.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s closest officials believe she read an email on the Garda’s legal strategy in relation to Sgt McCabe at the time it was sent to her two years ago.

Ms Fitzgerald has said she cannot recall whether she read the 2015 email or not.

She told the Dáil this week that the “very first time that I heard this email existed” was earlier this month when controversy arose over when she first learned of the Garda strategy.

However, a spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald said this was in reference to claims that she had not told Mr Varadkar about the email over recent weeks.

The spokeswoman said she was not claiming that she never knew that the email existed at all, but was only referencing her knowledge and recollection in recent weeks.

The email was sent to Ms Fitzgerald and a number of others in the Department of Justice, where she was senior minister at the time, from Assistant Secretary General Michael Flahive on May 15th, 2015.

‘Noted its contents’

In response to queries from The Irish Times, the Department of Justice said: “The email was passed to the Tánaiste who is recorded as having noted its contents. There was no oral discussion or briefing with her about it.”

A department spokesman further clarified that Ms Fitzgerald’s private secretary in the Department of Justice said the Tánaiste “noted the email”.

“This is standard civil service language that means ‘read’,” the department spokesman said, adding that this meant it was read around the time of receipt of the email in 2015.

When asked how the department concluded that Ms Fitzgerald “noted” the email, either by a reply email or conversation between her and her officials, the spokesman said: “To my knowledge, there is no record of how the private secretary came to that view. We can’t speculate.”

A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald said the Tánaiste has no recollection of whether she read the email or not.

“She certainly didn’t say noted without having read it. There was nothing for her to do on foot of the email. She obviously had sight of it and said noted.”

In the Dáil this week, Ms Fitzgerald said: “I want to be absolutely clear that the first time that I knew about the email was last Thursday when I was in contact with the department. As I have said on the record, that was the first time that I heard that this email existed - the very first time.”

Ms Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman said this quote was in reference to her knowledge and recollection of the email in recent weeks, in particular in her engagements with Mr Varadkar.

Motivation

The correspondence advised of an attempt by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to introduce a “serious criminal complaint” against Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, an inquiry examining allegations of Garda malpractice.

This was done to question Mr McCabe’s motivation, the email advised.

It also said this was a matter for the Garda commissioner at the time, and that Ms Fitzgerald had no “function” in relation to evidence before the O’Higgins ommission.

‘Subtle message’

Speaking on Saturday morning, Mr Varadkar said he had not sent out a “subtle message” in interviews to Ms Fitzgerald that she should resign.

“I won’t be seeking a resignation,” he said. “I don’t want her to offer it to me. There is no subtle message being sent out to the Tánaiste.”

Speaking at a conference organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland on Saturday morning, Mr Varadkar said Ms Fitzgerald is “one of the most honourable and distinguished politicians that I know and I’m proud to stand tall with a woman who’s done nothing wrong and has been unfairly judged”.

He continued: “I wonder what kind of message this sends to tomorrow’s leaders, to young women who may enter politics in the future, if we bow to those who want to sacrifice an honourable woman’s career without giving her a fair hearing.”

Mr Varadkar said he understands the public do not want a general election, neither before nor after Christmas, but he’s “not willing to sacrifice one person just so the Government would continue its own work. . . The case made against the Tánaiste is very flimsy. There is a suggestion that she should have acted on an issue . . . where it would have been improper for her to act.”

Mr Varadkar said he met the Independent Alliance on Friday night, and they are “100 per cent behind the Tánaiste”.

Senior figures in Fianna Fáil have said they have been sounded out by colleagues in Fine Gael who are concerned that the position of Charlie Flanagan, the current Minister for Justice, could also be jeopardised.

Fianna Fáil figures have said they will not put Mr Flanagan’s position under threat.