Sinn Féin to give Tánaiste last chance to answer questions

Frances Fitzgerald gives Seanad staunch defence of actions over Garda whistleblower controversy

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is "happy to correct" the Dáil record if his comments on Frances Fitzgerald were deemed misleading.

 

Sinn Féin has given Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald one last opportunity to answer questions on the Garda whistleblower controversy or it has warned it will table a motion of no confidence.

Sinn Fein had been considering tabling a motion next week in response to allegations Ms Fitzgerald knew of a legal strategy to undermine a Garda whistleblower.

After a meeting on Wednesday evening, a party spokesman said: “This is something we are still actively considering but we want to be fair. However there are serious questions that the Tánaiste has so far failed to answer.

“We want to give her time and space to clarify her position and answer these questions but this cannot go on forever.

“The Tánaiste is due to take leaders’ questions in the Dáil tomorrow and we will put these questions to her again.

“If we are not satisfied with her explanation then we will then look at putting down a motion of no confidence at our Private Members Times next week.”

Fianna Fáil

Earlier Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin urged his TDs to give him space and time to address concerns surrounding Ms Fitzgerald.

On Wednesday afternoon number of Fianna Fáil TDs said they want the party to support a Sinn Féin call for Ms Fitzgerald to step down.

If Sinn Fein tables a motion it would place pressure on the Fine Gael-led Government, which relies on the support of the Fianna Fáil to remain in office.

A number of the party’s TDs have told The Irish Times they believe the party should support the Sinn Fein proposal.

One TD said it was time for Fianna Fail “to stop hiding” behind the confidence and supply arrangement, which binds the party to abstain in such motions.

Seanad

Ms Fitzgerald addressed the Seanad on Wednesday evening. In a staunch defence of her actions and her former role as minister for justice, Ms Fitzgerald said the Attorney General reiterated in advice on Wednesday that she could have no role in questioning or in any way seeking to influence the legal strategy of the other parties.

She told Senators that if she had intervened in the Garda’s legal strategy she would be “here answering different questions as to why I had acted illegally”.

Opposition Senators questioned the Tánaiste about her failure to act on the email. Ms Fitzgerald said “I did not get involved in dealing with the legal approach which is still being considered by the Charleton tribunal and it is yet to be determined.”

‘Correct the record’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil earlier on Wednesday he was “happy to the correct the record” if he made misleading comments last week in relation to what Ms Fitzgerald knew about the legal strategy to challenge whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins tribunal.

The McCabe controversy, which has engulfed the Government for years, resurfaced in recent days and has threatened the political future of Ms Fitzgerald.

It has emerged that former minister for justice Ms Fitzgerald was made aware of the plans by the legal team appointed by then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to challenge Sgt McCabe before his cross-examination at the O’Higgins Commission - rather than afterwards, as the Taoiseach claimed last week.

Mr Varadkar said he was happy to make the correction if he had previously said the Tánaiste only knew about the legal strategy after Sgt McCabe he was cross-examined.

It emerged last year that the legal team appointed by then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was instructed to question Sgt McCabe’s motivation and credibility at the inquiry, which was investigating allegations made by Sgt McCabe of inaction and corruption in the Cavan-Monaghan division of the Garda.

The strategy pursued against Sgt McCabe is now being examined by the Disclosures Tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

Misleading the Dáil

Mr Varakdar was challenged in the Dáil on Wednesday by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who that Ms Fitzgerald received an email on May 15th, 2015 about the legal strategy to undermine the credibility of Sgt McCabe. But she said Sgt McCabe was cross examined three days later on May 18th.

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 Dáil again or you’re being more than disingenuous.”

“Your initial position was that she didn’t know until after the cross examination,” she added. But she said Mr Varadkar was now defining prior knowledge as after the opening statements. “You need to clarify that now Taoiseach.”

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

Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t 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.”

Mr Varadkar said: “The information I was given by the Department of Justice was that neither the department nor the Tánaiste were aware until after the fact.

“That briefing did not specify what after the fact meant.

“We now understand after the fact to have meant after the opening statements, after the commission had already started its work and was already under way.”

Earlier, Labour TD Alan Kelly said the Taoiseach needed to correct the record of the Dáil. Mr Kelly said the Taoiseach had said twice last week that the Department of Justice and the then minister for justice Ms Fitzgerald were not aware of the legal strategy to challenge Sergeant McCabe until after the cross-examination.

The cross examination took place on May 18th, 2015. However, Mr Kelly has pointed out that the email that informed Ms Fitzgerald of the clash with McCabe’s lawyers was dated three days earlier, May 15th.

The correspondence to Ms Fitzgerald, which was published yesterday, said the former commissioner authorised a criminal complaint against Sgt McCabe, which he denied and was later dismissed, to be used against him at the inquiry. However this is rejected by Mr McCabe, who insists such a complaint was never raised at any point during the O’Higgins commission. Instead the legal team for the Garda sought to introduce evidence that he had a grudge against individual members of the force and this was his rationale for raising concerns of malpractice.

The Garda whistleblower raised the inaccuracies in the email with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a telephone conversation last night and Mr Varadkar vowed to examine the matter further.

Sgt McCabe has told the Taoiseach the transcripts of the O’Higgins commission will support his position that such an issue was never raised during the private hearings.

Release all information

Mr Kelly said on Tuesday that Ms Fitzgerald now has to release all information about the email and any associated correspondence.

“I want to know where it came from, who saw it, was there a trail to that email who was cc-ed on it, who was it sent to, were advisers made aware of it, was there a history of it, why the AG was involved in it,” he told journalists this morning.

“I also want to get form the Tánaiste all communications from May 15th in her department - because we need full transparency,” he said.

Sinn Féin will consider on whether to put down a motion of no confidence in her for next week, thus forcing Fianna Fáil to either back Ms Fitzgerald or insist she resigns from Government under threat of a general election.

Mr Kelly and the Labour leader Brendan Howlin said that they would vote with a motion of no confidence if one is put down.