Willie O'Dea resigns as Minister for Defence

 

Willie O'Dea has resigned from the Cabinet this evening over the controversy surrounding the contents of an affidavit he made to the High Court last year.

The announcement came in the form of a statement from Government shortly before 9pm in which Mr O'Dea's resignation was confirmed.

In the statement, Mr O'Dea said: “I have come to the regrettable conclusion that my continuing in office will only serve to distract from the important and vital work of Government in addressing the serious challenges that the country continues to face at this time.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen thanked Mr O'Dea for his contribution to Government and singled out his performance as Minister for Defence.

“I want to thank you for your hard work and commitment in carrying out your duties as Minister. I believe that you have made a significant contribution to the Governments in which you have served and have shown great skill in overseeing the modernisation of the Defence Forces,” Mr Cowen said.

The Taoiseach has assigned the Department of Defence to himself for the present.

The pressure on Mr O'Dea to resign from the Cabinet mounted over the past 24 hours despite the passing of a motion of confidence in him in the Dáil yesterday.

The controversy arose over an affidavit submitted in April last year in which Mr O’Dea “categorically and emphatically” denied claiming in an interview with a Limerick journalist that Sinn Féin councillor Maurice Quinlivan had a connection with a brothel.

The High Court case followed a report by journalist Mike Dwane in the Limerick Chronicle that quoted the Minister as saying: “I suppose I am going a bit too far when I say this but I’d like to ask Mr Quinlivan, is the brothel still closed?”

In December, Mr O’Dea withdrew his denial of having made the statement about Mr Quinlivan and agreed to pay the Sinn Féin councillor damages plus his legal costs.

The leader of Fianna Fáil's Government partner, the Green Party's John Gormley, said he had received assurances from Mr O'Dea that his position would be vindicated but that the opposite was, in fact, the case.

“Yesterday afternoon I met Willie O’Dea and he assured me that an article in today’s Limerick Leader would vindicate him. The article published today does not do that. In fact it does the opposite."

“At the very conclusion of yesterday’s Dáil debate Mr O’Dea said his original actions in the matter were based on information given to him by An Garda Síochána. We were very concerned by this behaviour by a member of Government", Mr Gormley said.

“We have also taken the view that Willie O’Dea’s comments and conduct during yesterday’s debate and in subsequent media appearances were inappropriate."

“All these factors have led us to conclude that Willie O’Dea could not continue as a member of this Government. The issue has already taken up too much energy and attention at a time when crucial economic challenges face the Irish people."

“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners in government to face those challenges”, he concluded.

Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny, said Mr O'Dea's resignation was "inevitable" and questioned the Taoiseach's ability to lead the Government.

"Willie O'Dea's resignation was an inevitable consequence of his swearing of a false affidavit before the High Court," Mr Kenny said in a statement.

“This affair also leaves the Government in disarray. The main partner has confirmed that the Fianna Fáil code of ethics has been safely passed on to this generation of the party.

“The junior partners, the Greens, have been emphatically and decisively humiliated and have confirmed their role as Fianna Fáil's mudguard," Mr Kenny said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the resignation was "inevitable once the full details of his conduct emerged over recent days".

Mr Gilmore said the Government's lifespan would be shortened as a result of the resignation and accused the Taoiseach of "political misjudgement".

"Mr O’Dea’s fate was sealed by the manner in which he and his Fianna Fáil colleagues responded to the motion of no-confidence. Rather than treating it as the serious matter it was, Mr Cowen, Mr O’Dea and others adopted a totally dismissive attitude and engaged in what can only be described as a form of parliamentary slapstick."

"Mr Cowen was also guilty of a serious political misjudgement. It was clear that the Taoiseach proceeded with the motion on Wednesday without first having secured the full agreement of the Green Party. The simmering resentment of the Green Party as this humiliation was evident to everyone in the Dáil over the past two days", he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One earlier today, Mr O’Dea said his comments were a “stupid, silly mistake” based on information he had received from a member of An Garda. This information had later turned out to be incorrect, he said.

"I say things I don't really mean in the heat of battle and I said something wrong on this occasion, it wasn't something I concocted but was something that was passed on to me casually, informally."

Mr O’Dea also stressed that he was “not a perjurer . . . I did not commit perjury” and suggested that he, too, was a victim in the affair as he was being accused of committing perjury, which is something he had not done.

The Minister apologised for his actions and said it was never his intention to damage or destabilise the Government. He added that: “I am not contemplating resigning”.

Yesterday, Mr O’Dea told the Dáil he had made a “genuine and honest mistake” in failing to recall remarks he had made about Mr Quinlivan.

He later saw a transcript of the interview in which he had gone further than what had been quoted in a Limerick newspaper.

“Having seen the transcript, I took the initiative. I went to my solicitor and immediately corrected my affidavit. I was not forced or pressed to do this. I did so of my own volition as I then knew that my original affidavit was wrong,” he said.

The Limerick Leader has published the full taped interview with Mr O'Dea today. The audio clip is also available for download from the Irish Times website.