Live: ‘I can only assume I did read the email’, says Tánaiste

Latest: An Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has addressed the Dáil on the controversy surrounding the receipt of an email relating to Garda Maurice McCabe, which the former Minister for Justice said she could not remember receiving or reading in May 2015.

This evening, the Tánasite said: “‘I can only assume I did read the email.”

In sometimes heated Dáil exchanges, Ms Fitzgerald repeated that she had no “hand, act or part” in a legal strategy adopted by An Garda Síochána in respect of treatment of Sgt McCabe.

She also said repeatedly that she had taken many measures to support whistleblowers.

Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste: “Did you read the email, and forget about it?”

“I can only assume that I did read it,” she answered.

Deputy Roisín Shorthall asked who wrote the email and who was it addressed to.

The Tánaiste said a senior official in the Department of Justice summarised a call from the chief state solicitor’s office, and that is the content of the email, which was then sent to her departmental secretary.

Shortall, from the Social Democrats also asked her why she did not react more strongly to the email.

She said: "Your predecessor had been forced to resign, the Garda Commissioner had been forced to resign as a result of that campaign to denigrate Sgt McCabe and yet you are told in this email that the new Commossioner is continuing on with that campaign to denigrate whistleblowers."

The Tánaiste has repeatedly said: “I have no role in the legal strategy adopted by An Garda Síochána.”

The Tánaiste said she met Sgt McCabe once, with his wife Lorraine to discuss the difficulties of his situation and his ideas for reform of the Force.

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan said: “You told the country earlier today that you cannot remember whether you read that email.” He said was it not the case that a conscientious Minister for Justice would have read the email.

“I had no role in relation to the evidence that was being put forward,” the Minister answered.

“To this date, we do not know what that (Garda legal) strategy was,” the Tánaiste said.

“Anytime this was discussed with Garda management, it was made clear that Garda McCabe should get every support...I have always supported Sgt McCabe.”

Watch live coverage form the house below:

SF’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked why did the Tánaiste not hand this information (on the email) over to the Taoiseach on Thursday night? Reports suggest it was after 11pm last night when the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar first saw the email.

The Tánaiste said further legal advice was being sought and she was awaiting the outcome of that.

Frances Fitzgerald said the email says the allegation against Sgt McCabe was of a “serious criminal complaint”.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said: “You surely should have intervened with the Garda Commissioner (on receipt of the email)...The email should have acted as a red flag, that you should have held the Garda Commissioner to account for the action she was taking?”

The Tánaiste said: “I did hold the Garda Commissioner accountable for the treatment of whistleblowers.”

The Tánaiste added: “The idea the Department (of Justice) or myself as Minister would be part of discussions about a legal strategy for a party appearing at the Commission...would be absolutely wrong.”

Latest:Tánaitse Frances Fitzgerald has begun addressing the Dáil on the controversy surrounding an email in respect of Maurice McCabe, which broke overnight.

Frances Fitzgerald has told the Dáil: “I welcome (this) opportunity….My objective is to put as much information as I can into the public domain, while respecting the work of the Charleton Tribunal.”

“I can only speak about my own personal experience and knowledge.

“Neither I, nor the Department of Justice, had any hand, act or part in the formation the legal strategy is respect of the case.

“I had no knowledge of the details that emerged in May 2016...I learned of them in media reports like everyone else.

“As Minister for Justice, I strongly encouraged Garda management to put in place comprehensive policies for whistleblowers...I established the Policing Authority...and at all times sought to support whistleblowers.

“As Minister for Justice, I paid tribute to” Maurice McCabe. “Everyone is entitled to basic, fair procedures enshrined in our Constitution”, and she encouraged everyone to let the Charleton Tribunal complete its work.

“My record speaks for itself.”

Update 5.45pm:Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald will face questions in the Dail this evening on her knowledge of a garda strategy to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins inquiry.

Jim O'Callaghan, Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman wants the Tanaiste to provide more details on what exactly she knew.

He said: "I've no problem calling for somebody to resign, I've done that before when I feel it is necessary.

"However, I don't call on people to resign just to hop on the bandwagon.

"I think it is important that we get all the relevant information, that we consider it and if it appears on the front of all that information that a minister should resign, we will call for that but we are not calling for that at this stage."

Earlier Labour leader Brendan Howlin said claims the email couldn’t be published as it was before the Disclosures Tribunal didn’t stack up.

He said: "In the past on other occasion, tribunals went on for a decade and were used as a shield for providing free suit, I would ask that there would be an immediate agreement that such a debate would take place, including questions and answers."

Update 4.30pm: The Tanaiste is to make a statement to the Dail this evening on when she became aware of a garda strategy to discredit Maurice McCabe.

Frances Fitzgerald has said she does not remember an email she got in May 2015 which described a row between the legal teams of the Garda commissioner and Sergeant McCabe.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail he did not mislead it when he said last week that Minister Fitzgerald only became aware of the garda strategy at the start of the O’Higgins commission in May 2016.

Last week, Leo Varadkar told the Dail that former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald only became aware of garda plans to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins inquiry in May 2016.

But it has since emerged Frances Fitzgerald received an email on the matter in May of 2015.

Today, the Taoiseach said he was not misleading the Dail on that matter but none of the Opposition was willing to accept this explanation and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin, Labour’s Brendan Howlin and Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty called on the Tanaiste to make a statement to the house.

Bowing to pressure Leo Varadkar said Frances Fitzgerald would speak on the matter this evening.

Update 3.25pm: The Taoiseach has repeated assertions that the Tanaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, did not have prior knowledge of a garda strategy to discredit Maurice McCabe.

Leo Varadkar told the Dail last week that Frances Fitzgerald only became aware in May 2016 that the garda legal team had been instructed to call into question the motives of the whistleblower.

But this afternoon, the Taoiseach admitted that the Tanaiste had received an e-mail about a dispute between the Garda legal team and Sergeant McCabe in May 2015 but said Minister Fitzgerald was told she had no role to play in that dispute.

"This pertains to a legal strategy in which the Tanaiste and dept had no hand, act or part in, knew nothing about prior to the fact and only found out about after the fact and the conclusion at that time was that they had no role in the matter."

2pm: Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed she received an e-mail from "a Department of Justice official" in May 2015 referencing a row over "a serious criminal charge" against Maurice McCabe which failed to be properly investigated, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Ms Fitzgerald admitted the situation - and the fact the e-mail was sent to her after discussions between officials and the attorney general's office - despite continuing to insist she had "no hand, act or part" in the garda legal strategy to discredit Mr McCabe.

Last week, Ms Fitzgerald and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Tánaiste only became aware of an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Mr McCabe when the information became public knowledge in May 2016.

However, on Monday night, the Department of Justice confirmed she was in fact told in May 2015 of a disagreement between the garda legal team and representatives of Mr McCabe in relation to the incident.

Speaking on RTE Radio's News at One programme after being ordered to attend an emergency meeting with Mr Varadkar and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, Ms Fitzgerald insisted she had "no hand, act or part" in the garda legal strategy and has always attempted to protect and support whistleblowers.

However, she confirmed she received an e-mail in May 2015 from an unknown "Department of Justice official" who had spoken with the office of the attorney general which warned "a serious criminal charge" was not properly investigated by the gardai.

"It [the e-mail] was that a serious criminal charge about Maurice McCabe had been raised. It wasn't for me to get into the criminal charge.

"What was reported to me, the allegation was a serious criminal complaint which he'd always denied had not been properly investigated by an garda siochana.

"The allegation had been a serious criminal complaint was made which he'd always denied," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said she did not read the e-mail in depth, did not ask about the exact nature of the allegations and was told she had no role to play in the matter because it was under discussion by the O'Higgins commission.

However, speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he received a phone call from Mr McCabe just before 2pm to say the allegations were not in fact specifically raised at the commission.

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking after she was ordered to attend an emergency meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan over the latest McCabe controversy at Government Buildings this morning.

It is understood the meeting involved urgent discussions between the three senior cabinet members over a "definitive" timeline as to when Ms Fitzgerald was first informed about the garda legal team strategy to discredit Mr McCabe at the O'Higgins commission.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said this morning Ms Fitzgerald's position in Government is now "precarious".

Update 12.49pm: Labour TD Alan Kelly has said that he does not believe it's credible that the Tánaiste knew of a row over the legal strategy to discredit Maurice McCabe for a full year, without probing the details of it.

He added that both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have very serious questions to answer.

"This is the biggest thing, probably, that's ever faced her in her political career," he said.

It is a crisis that was across Governments. It is a crisis for the justice system going on a number of years, it has multi layers to it.

"And the idea that, as a Minister, you would be informed that there was an issue down there in relation to a legal strategy and that you wouldn't ask follow-up questions, and you wouldn't probe it... I don't believe it's credible."

Alan Kelly

Earlier:

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is being urged to correct the Dáil record in relation to Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is being accused of knowing about the gardaí's plan to discredit him since 2015.

Last week, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that Ms Fitzgerald only found out in May 2016.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that Ms Fitzgerald was made aware of the strategy in May 2015 — a year before it entered the public domain in May 2016 as the Taoiseach claimed last week.

Former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Leo Varadkar said Ms Fitzgerald had “no hand, act, or part” in that strategy.

“She found out about it after the fact, but around the time it was in the public domain when everyone else knew about it as well,” said Mr Varadkar.

The information came to light in May 2016 when Michael Clifford in ?the Irish Examiner, and Katie Hannon on? ?RTÉ?,? brought the matter into the public domain.

Social Democrats TD Roisín Shortall says it is time for the truth.

She said: "We're calling now on the Taoiseach to clarify the situation, to correct the record of the Dáil.

"Because quite clearly what he told us last week was misleading and tell us exactly now when Frances Fitzgerald became aware of the legal strategy and what action, if any, did she take on foot of that."


 

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