Election crisis: FG and FF meetings come to a close with no developments following new revelations on Tánaiste

Update 11.26pm: The meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin has come to an end with no new developments tonight.

The meeting came to an end after over an hour of talks following the release of new documents by the Department of Justice which showed that Frances Fitzgerald was advised a number of times in mid-2015 through emails, queries and advice by her department about a strategy to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The Taoiseach and the Fianna Fail leader are to meet in the morning again to try to avoid a General Election.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar told the Irish Examiner: "The meeting between the Taoiseach and Deputy Martin has concluded. Discussions will resume again tomorrow. There was serious engagement on both sides, and all remain keen to avoid an election in the interest of the country."

Update 10.06pm: Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has tonight defended her position amid calls for her to resign over failing to act over a garda plan to smear whistleblower, writes Juno McEnroe Political Correspondent.

New documents show she was advised a number of times in mid-2015 through emails, queries and advice by her department about a strategy to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The files were released by the Department of Justice but have prompted fresh calls for her to go.

She tonight tweeted:

“As justice minister I could not interfere with the O'Higgins Commission. This is confirmed twice in today's docs and has been confirmed by the AG. The tribunal will objectively judge the appropriateness of my conduct. I look forward to giving my evidence to the tribunal early in January.”

Update 8.45pm: Frances Fitzgerald has no defence and must now resign - Sinn Féin; FG and FF leaders set to meet

Sinn Féin have said new department of justice documents reveal that embattled Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has no defence on why she failed to act to protect a whistleblower and must resign, writes Political Correspondent Juno McEnroe

New documents released by the department tonight show she was made aware a second time in July 2015 of a potential garda strategy to undermine Sgt Maurice McCabe.

This was several weeks after a first email in May 2015 notifying her of the garda plan at an inquiry.

A senior department official for Frances Fitzgerald though later passed on details of a media query to her which concerned questions about the “aggresive” approach by garda management to discredit Sgt McCabe.

This advice, flagging the matter, also told the minister how she could publicly praise Sgt McCabe.

It also confirms the Department of Justice liaised with the former garda commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and the garda press office on these matters. Gardaí had received a similar media query.

The correspondence reveals that assistant secretary Ken O'Leary advised the Tánaiste of these issues.

Mr O'Leary also told Ms Fitzgerald to stress her belief “that Sgt McCabe is a valued member of the force”.

Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has responded to the release of additional documentation regarding Maurice McCabe and the O’Higgins Commission from the Department of Justice tonight, saying that that these documents dispelled any lingering doubts on the Tánaiste’s knowledge of the Legal Strategy.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

The Cork South-Central TD said: “These documents are further evidence of the Tánaiste’s failings in addressing very serious issue, and her failure to protect Maurice McCabe from an appalling smear.

“The case for the defence for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has been unravelling for days. It has now collapsed.

“At first, the attempt to say she discovered after the fact. This was disproven.

“Then, to try and say that it was an email of such little significance that she could not recall and no action was required anyway. This was discredited.

“She has tried to say there was nothing she could do anyway; this has been comprehensively rebutted.

“Now, in tonight’s dramatic extraordinary revelations, it emerged that she received three emails, including questions from the Press and advice on how to respond to them. It was never credible to say she was unaware of the email or couldn’t recall – but it is utterly incredible now."

The Social Democrats have said the Tánaiste’s position is untenable in the light of further documents released tonight about Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The party’s co-leader Róisín Shortall TD said: “The sheer extent of the Tánaiste’s dereliction of her duty as Minister for Justice is laid bare in the chain of emails released tonight. The correspondence shows that a senior official in the Minister’s department liaised with the then Garda Commissioner about media queries about the Garda Commissioner’s role in the aggressive legal stance towards Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

Róisín Shortall

“Whatever about a Minister not recalling an issue being raised once in an email, this departmental trawl shows that both the Minister and her officials were informed in another two further emails, and in considerable detail, about media inquiries about the legal strategy adopted by the Garda Commissioner.

“How can the Tánaiste continue to credibly maintain that she wasn’t aware of the legal strategy, despite her officials and her special advisers being included in the email chain released tonight?"

Update 8.30pm: Documents show Francis Fitzgerald 'noted' email on McCabe legal strategy; FF and FG meeting continues

Frances Fitzgerald was made aware of a garda strategy to take an aggressive stance towards Maurice McCabe a second time in the summer of 2015, by way of a media query.

The then Justice Minister was advised that if asked about this, she could say that Sergeant McCabe was a valued member of the force.

The new revelations are contained in a second stream of emails regarding Maurice McCabe which have been released by the Department of Justice this evening  .

They come as the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader continue to discuss options to avoid the Dáil being dissolved due to a no confidence motion in the Tánaiste.

Frances Fitzgerald has said, and her party has accepted, that she does not recall an email sent in May 2015 outlining the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy to attack the motivation of Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Inquiry at that time.

But in a trawl of records at the Department of Justice, ordered by the Taoiseach last week – it’s now emerged that the Minister had ‘noted’ that email.

It has also been confirmed that the former Justice Minister was made aware of a media query which referred to the aggressive stance that Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan ordered her legal Counsel to take.

The email also advises Frances Fitzgerald that if she’s questioned about this, she could say that Sgt McCabe is a valued member of the force.

While the email says the matters are before a Commission of Investigation, it will be seen as the second time Minister Fitzgerald was made aware of the plan to smear Maurice McCabe – despite her saying she did not become aware of the matter until a year later.

This new evidence raises the stakes of talks between the Taoiseach and Micheál Martin this evening - less than 24 hours before the motion of no confidence in the Dáil is due to be debated.

The material published by the department can be seen in full below:

1. An interim report of a search and retrieval of records (this report is dated 24 November 2017)

2. The final report of the search and retrieval of records (this report is dated 27 November 2017)

3. Two email threads which were discovered in the course of the search and retrieval of records (these have now been sent to the Disclosures Tribunal)

4. A letter from the Disclosures Tribunal to the Department of Justice and Equality (dated 22 November 2017)

5. A report setting out progress on the implementation of the Toland Report

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin says Leo Varadkar is failing his first big test in Government.

The Taoiseach has said he is standing by Frances Fitzgerald and is committed to finding a middle way to allow his minority administration to continue its work.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the stand-off which threatens to force fresh elections was about accountability.

"Where something as awful as this was allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged somebody has to be answerable for it.

"I regard this as perhaps the first big really substantial test of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach and so far he is failing.

"The only way he moves from a fail to a pass is to do his job and hold the now Tánaiste and former minister for justice to account and that means her standing down."

Sinn Féin wants Frances Fitzgerald to step down over her handling of the Garda Maurice McCabe whistleblowing saga.

An email advising Ms Fitzgerald of the legal strategy being enforced against Garda McCabe is at the centre of calls for her to go.

Ms Fitzgerald has said she cannot recall whether she read the email at the time but was reminded of its contents recently.

The issues are still under investigation by a disclosures tribunal chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton

Ms McDonald alleged: "Perhaps the most powerful agencies of the state took a very deliberate decision to target an individual in an attempt to smear that person, take their reputation, their professional standing and essentially ruin their life and this has been a long-running saga.

"Maurice McCabe was and is a member of An Garda Siochana so if that can happen to somebody who wears the uniform of a garda then it can happen to any citizen arguably and that is an intolerable proposition in any open democratic state.

Maurice McCabe

"The basis of the rule of law and democracy is that people's rights are protected."

Ms McDonald said she had not planned for an election at Christmas time.

"I have a young family.

"No more than anybody else I understand the kind of pressures families are under and the business of the time.

"Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want this to become a discussion around whether or not we should have an election; that is totally wrong-headed that is not what this is about.

"Our motion is not calling for a general election, although we have no confidence in this government.

"Our motion very clearly is setting out the need for accountability that is the issue."

5. A report setting out progress on the implementation of the Toland Report

Update 5.50pm: It is not the right time for the country to go to the polls, says Regina Doherty Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin will meet again this evening in an effort to prevent a Christmas election.

Fianna Fáil wants the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to resign over the Maurice McCabe controversy and a motion of no confidence is due to take place tomorrow.

If a compromise is not reached between the two parties then the country will take to the polls.

Fine Gael have stood firmly behind Frances Fitzgerald and speaking this evening the Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty, believes an election can still be avoided.

Regina Doherty

"This particular time in the juncture of negotiations in Europe for Ireland, it is not the right time for the country to go to the polls," said Ms Doherty.

"I think the two leaders who are sitting around trying to find a resolution here will find a political resolution here and allow due process to happen in the Charleton Tribunal and for us all to get back to work and do what we're being paid to do."

The Taoiseach said earlier today he is doing everything he can to avoid a snap Christmas election amid a political row over the treatment of a whistleblower.

Update 3.33pm: Election would delay work to tackle homelessness crisis, minister warns

Efforts to tackle one of Ireland's worst homelessness crises could be delayed if an election is called.

That's the view of Damien English, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, who said an election would be a distraction from other more vital work.

Mr English made his comments as it emerged Leo Varadkar is to hold a new round of talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin this evening as he attempts to save his minority Government.

Reflecting on those talks Mr English expressed optimism a pre-Christmas poll could be avoided.

"Nobody will thank us, the people are very clear on this, no matter who you talk to, no matter what party or independents they support.

"Nobody wants an election because we all understand that when you have an election it does delay the work of Government.

Damien English

"It does delay the action we are trying to implement across all the different departments, certainly priority number one is housing and tackling homelessness, and any delay to that is not good for anyone."

A housing charity said it received an "unprecedented" level of calls last year.

A record number of people have been found sleeping rough in Dublin.

A total of 184 were discovered in parks, streets, doorways and shopfronts on November 7.

Some 1,138 families with 2,416 children were in emergency accommodation in or around the capital in September.

Threshold, a housing charity, has urged the Government to strengthen investment in homelessness prevention measures.

It took more than 71,000 calls for help last year - compared with 32,000 in 2015. 14% related to substandard accommodation and another 14% to tenancy terminations.

Mr English said tackling the problem enjoyed cross-party support and a major financial commitment from taxpayers.

He added public representatives were responding and he hoped to build on that following this week's "difficult" time.

"A general election can only be a distraction to that work."

He added: "I am always optimistic but I am a realist too.

"It is a difficult situation for everybody and we have to try to find a solution here but I think it is possible."

He said it was politicians' jobs to find a resolution.

"Tomorrow is deadline day but I have no doubt that Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin will work very hard to make it happen.

"I am quite confident, but you never know."

He reiterated calls for a focus on the challenges of Brexit and next month's crucial EU summit.

Threshold chairman Dr Aideen Hayden urged the Government to invest in meaningful measures to address private renting challenges.

"Renting continues to be a precarious venture in this country and there is much more the Government should be doing to protect tenants."

Meanwhile, RTÉ Radio 1 have released a poll which has found 71% do not believe there should be a general election.

Joe Duffy asked Liveline listeners if there should be a general election and if the Tánaiste should resign.

Almost 4,828 people voted in the text poll about the general election while 5,200 people voted in the question about the Tánaiste.

The results were:

Should there be a general election?

                                      Results: Yes: 29% No: 71%

Should the Tánaiste resign?

                                      Results: Yes: 60% No: 40%

Update 2.57pm: Leo Varadkar 'doing everything' to avoid snap election

The Taoiseach has said he is doing everything he can to avoid a snap Christmas election amid a political row over the treatment of a whistleblower.

Leo Varadkar is to hold the latest round of talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin this evening as he attempts to save his minority Government.

The negotiations, which could see a radical overhaul of justice affairs, are said to have been constructive.

"We are trying to find a middle way that allows the Government to continue and continue with the important work we are doing, particularly with Brexit and ensuring that we have necessary legislation through," the Taoiseach said.

"We are doing everything we can."

Fianna Fáil have demanded the resignation of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald over her handling of a 2015 email that revealed attempts to discredit Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at a private Government-ordered inquiry.

If no compromise is reached then it will lead to the collapse of the delicate confidence and supply arrangement that was supposed to see Mr Martin's party support the minority Fine Gael Government until the passage of the Budget in late 2018 and abstain in any no confidence motions against ministers.

The Taoiseach said only Sinn Féin wants an election.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said: "I certainly hope that we can find a solution. I'm long enough in politics to see how bad political decision-making screwed up opportunities."

If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil fail to end the stand-off by Tuesday, a snap pre-Christmas election looms - at a time when ministers are preparing for December's crunch EU summit, when the fate of the Irish border post-Brexit could effectively be determined.

Update 1pm: Latest: Varadkar: 'I have nothing to hide, Fine Gael has nothing to hide'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stressed that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael want an election.

He said he is working with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to come to a resolution.

"I think it's fair to say neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael want an election. It seems Sinn Féin is the only party that wants that," he said.

"We're trying to find a middle way that allows the Government to continue, and continue with the important work that we're doing, particularly in relation to Brexit and ensuring the important work that we have the necessary legislation.

"We're doing everything we can."

Mr Varadkar said he and his party have nothing to hide.

"As I always said, and said in the Dáil last week, I have nothing to hide, Fine Gael has nothing to hide, nor does the Government and we're not trying to protect anyone. We just want to make sure that there is due process and people are treated fairly," he said.

"Certainly I don't want there to be an election, I don't think it would change anything or achieve anything, particularly at such an important time for the country.

"We'll meet with Micheál Martin this evening and I'll do everything I can to come to a resolution but obviously that must involve due process."

The Taoiseach was speaking after the funeral of former Minister for State, Donal Creed in Macroom, Co Cork.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured arriving at the funeral mass of former TD Donal Creed at St. Colman’s Church, Macroom, Co. Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

by Elaine Loughlin

Update 12pm: Negotiations between the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin are likely to intensify before tomorrow's no confidence vote, the Finance Minister has said.

Speaking at a housing development in Dublin this morning Paschal Donohoe said Leo Varadkar “will also be looking at any options that are open to him to avoid an election that nobody wans."

He said the Taoiseach is taking negotiations "very seriously" and will "do all that is possible to avoid an election taking place".

“I don’t think any of us can understate how sensitive and how important the negotiations are that are currently under way. They are moving into their fourth day."

Mr Varadkar is due to meet Mr Martin in Cork today for another round of talks to avert a General Election before Christmas.

Mr Donohoe warned that a number of pieces of important legislation including restoration of public sector pay and increases to social welfare payments announced in the Budget still need to be passed by the Dáil.

"The Public Pension and Pay Bill is a very good example of the kind of legislation that it's in the best interests of all to have passed before Christmas but Fianna Fail need to understand and I think do, that there are pieces of legislation such as that, such as the Social Welfare Bill such as passing the Finance Bill through the Seanad and then other matters in relation to estimates that need to be passed in the coming weeks.

"This is an election that if it happens will not be in the best interest of ensuring those pieces of legislation are passed."

He added: “It is even more apparent now that the country is facing so many challenges and indeed so many opportunities that will need to be dealt with across the month of December and into Janaury.

“For all of those reasons, it is imperative that we do all we can we ensure an election doesn’t happen but Fianna Fáil need to do their bit to.

Mr Donohoe said he "stood fully" by Frances Fitzgerald "at all times she has been a reforming minister who has been absolutely focused on protecting those who need protection and support."

Earlier: Minister Simon Coveney has said there is no attempt to protect Frances Fitzgerald from "the exposure of truth".

He described what he believed was a "fundamental unfairness" by casting judgment on the Tánaiste before the upcoming Tribunal in January.

Mr Coveney described the ongoing controversy as a "difficult political situation to manage".

"There is no attempt here to hide anything or protect Frances Fitzgerald from the exposure of truth," he told RTÉ Radio One's Today with Sean O'Rourke.

"We believe that Frances is being very unfairly treated and we believe she should not be asked to resign," he said.

"What we have now is a debate around an email. This is a time for cool heads and due process that needs to be allowed to take its course," he added.

He said the role of Minister Fitzgerald and the Department of Justice will be under review in the Tribunal.

"In six weeks' time, we have a tribunal of inquiry investigating the very things that are under discussion from politicians. We believe that any political judgment should be made after that tribunal reports, rather than pre-empting it.

He accepted there was poor management in the Department of Justice but said Frances Fitzgerald was "happy" to appear before the Tribunal and to be politically accountable for the outcomes of the Tribunal.

His comments come as Fianna Fáil calls for her resignation amid the ongoing Maurice McCabe email scandal.

The email sent in May 2015 outlined a garda strategy to smear Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Inquiry.

It also emerged that ex-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan telephoned a senior official in the department in May 2015 to inform them of her intended legal strategy at the O’Higgins Commission in relation to whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The call is said to have occurred “at the time” a similar email was received and read by Ms Fitzgerald.

A spokeswoman for the Tánaiste told the Irish Examiner she was “not aware” of the call at the time.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said talks between Táoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had not yet reached an agreement.

A radical break-up of the Department of Justice into two has formed the basis of Varadkar's offering to Fianna Fáil in a bid to avoid a general election.

Sources have confirmed that three proposals were tabled, including the radical plans to overhaul the Department of Justice during discussions throughout the weekend.

"There will be ongoing discussions today. The Taoiseach and Fine Fáil leader have met a number of times and I think it is true to say that neither party wants an election," he said.

"An election doesn't make sense for the country. We have some huge challenges to overcome, not least in the face of Brexit," he added.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said he believed Fianna Fáil had "genuine concerns".

"They want political accountability as well as a process that establishes the truth, and we have to try to figure out a way with them that we can do that," he said.

"We have to work with them so Maurice McCabe can get the justice he deserves," he added.

He said the ongoing discussions between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar have been "constructive" but had yet failed to finalise "a package of proposals that can avoid" an election.


 

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