Varadkar says Fitzgerald could not get a fair hearing

Taoiseach says ‘a calm reading of evidence will show the tánaiste acted appropriately’

Speaking in the Dáil following the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, and Innovation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would take on her ministerial responsibilities temporarily as well as his own.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was warned it would be a “very serious mistake” to have an internal Civil Service review of the emails saga in the Department of Justice.

Mr Varadkar had told the Dáil there would be an external inquiry into the way “important emails were not found and therefore not sent to the Charleton tribunal during discovery”.

But when questioned by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald about who would carry it out, he said the secretary general of his department would deal with the issue, to report by Christmas, and that there was precedent for such an inquiry.

But Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said “it is essential for credibility that it be an independent review” and warned that it would be a very serious mistake to keep the investigation within the Civil Service.

Mr Varadkar told her he would be “all ears” for substantive suggestions for an alternative person or body to conduct the inquiry.

In a trenchant criticism of the Department of Justice, the Taoiseach said earlier that the events of the past week “have exposed major problems once against within a dysfunctional department”.

‘Radical action’

Reforms under way “will now be accelerated” with “radical action to restore public confidence in the department”.

An independent change and implementation group will review the department’s culture particularly in light of “evidence of a continued siloed and secretive culture and a failure to provide accurate information to me and the Oireachtas”. The group would “appropriately structure” the relationship between the Garda and department to ensure accountability and better performance.

Mr Varadkar was determined to “shine the brightest of lights into the darkest of places so we arrive at the truth and have true accountability”.

Earlier, formally announcing the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald as tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Varadkar said it was his “strong view that a good woman is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing”.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he would take on her ministerial responsibilities temporarily, as well as his own.

Replacement

No announcement on her replacement as tánaiste has been made.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil Ms Fitzgerald had been an exemplary member of Government. He described Ms Fitzgerald as one of the most reforming ministers in the Department of Justice and said she had always supported whistle-blowers.

In the past few days, he said, a drip, drip of information made things seem greater than they were. “There was a feeding frenzy and it became impossible for her to get a fair hearing,” he said.

She had no hand, act or part in the Garda legal strategy and had no knowledge of the approach that was being taken until the O’Higgins inquiry was under way, he told the Dáil. “A calm reading of evidence will show that the tánaiste acted appropriately.”

He also said he expected Ms Fitzgerald to play a full role at the highest level in the future.

‘Can of worms’

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett claimed the Taoiseach was “trying to close the can of worms that has been opened on this scandal and Fianna Fáil is colluding with him”.

Mr Varadkar insisted that “it was never and will never be my intention to plunge the country into an unnecessary general election”, and did everything he could to avoid it.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said it was “soul destroying to watch the games that are played in here by all sides”. He claimed “there is no appetite to protect whistleblowers in this country”.

The Taoiseach said he had found as both a doctor and a politician that “diagnosis is a damn sight easier than surgery and the cure”.