Tánaiste battling to save her political career

Opposition parties offer Fitzgerald last chance to detail her knowledge of McCabe case

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

 

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is facing a battle to save her political career as Opposition parties offered her one last chance to detail her knowledge of a campaign to discredit a Garda whistleblower.

Ms Fitzgerald will face further questions regarding her awareness of efforts by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to query the “motivation” and character of Sgt Maurice McCabe at a commission of inquiry examining claims of Garda malpractice.

This follows revelations that the Tánaiste was informed in May 2015 that the Garda’s legal team was raising a “serious criminal” complaint against Sgt McCabe during the inquiry.

At a meeting on Wednesday night Sinn Féin agreed to table a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald if she fails to clarify outstanding issues in the Dáil on Thursday.

Fianna Fáil TDs also failed to rule out backing the Sinn Féin proposal, insisting they would find it “very difficult” to support the Tánaiste.

One TD said it would hard for the party to abstain in “such a vote considering how the Dáil has been continuously misled”, while others anticipated the departure of Ms Fitzgerald by the end of the week.

A frontbench TD said: “There is a sense that Fianna Fáil cannot keep criticising without taking action. This has happened previously on a similar subject and there is no appetite to back down this time.”

Addressing the Fianna Fáil weekly meeting, party leader Micheál Martin sought space and time to address the matter.

Solution

Many read this as an indication Mr Martin would raise the issue directly with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and seek a solution to the matter there. The two party leaders spoke in private on Wednesday.

Mr Varadkar has privately sought to distance himself from the Tánaiste and the controversies engulfing her.

The Dáil, meanwhile, continued to be dominated by questions over Ms Fitzgerald’s role in the controversy and when she became aware of plans to undermine Sgt McCabe.

It emerged this week she received an email on May 15th, 2015, advising her of the matter despite having previously insisted she did not know of the legal strategy until May 2016.

Ms Fitzgerald is also facing criticism for failing to notify the Taoiseach of the contents of the email when she was reminded of its contents last Thursday.

The Irish Times has now learned the Department of Justice found the email on November 9th while in search of responses to questions submitted by Labour TD Alan Kelly.

However, it did not notify the Taoiseach, who answered questions on the matter in the Dáil on November 14th and 15th. It did not disclose the detail to the Tánaiste until November 16th.

The confirmation from the Department of Justice contradicts evidence given by Ms Fitzgerald to the Seanad on Wednesday night.

Answering questions on the matter, the Tánaiste said the department notified her on the day it located the correspondence. It has since emerged it waited a week before informing her.

Legal view

A Department of Justice spokesman said the delay was to seek a legal view and to begin a trawl to identify any other relevant records.

A legal opinion was necessary to assess its context for the Disclosures Tribunal, which is examining an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

The correspondence was not sent to the tribunal until November 21st, at the request of the Taoiseach.

Earlier in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar criticised incomplete information he had received from the Department of Justice on a number of occasions.

The Taoiseach has now ordered a further trawl of its documentation, and has called for an update on the implementation of the Toland report, an independent review group, on the operations of the department.