Public servants ‘defamed’ using Dail privilege, claims Frances Fitzgerald

Former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has accused opposition politicians of using “the shelter of parliament” to “defame” public servants.

She said it was “deeply worrying” politicians were using Dail privilege inappropriately and that consequently it was being printed.

“Unsupported defamation is walked into our national press, wrapped in the cloak of Dail privilege,” Ms Fitzgerald claimed.

“Defamation laundering is not what this privilege was designed for.”

The purpose of privilege is to allow politicians raise points in parliament without fear of being pursued in the courts.

Ms Fitzgerald made the comments during statements in the Dail on the Disclosures Tribunal report.

The investigation into Garda corruption found whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe was smeared by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Sgt McCabe, who faced unfounded and false allegations of a sexual assault, was vindicated and praised in the Charleton Tribunal report, which was published a fortnight ago.

Ms Fitzgerald said she had spoken to Sgt McCabe and she hoped it would represent a turning point for him and his family.

“No words of mine could describe better than Judge Charleton the great wrongs that were done to Maurice McCabe by those in senior positions in An Garda Siochana and indeed by the prevailing culture,” she said.

“The Tribunal report sets out elegantly and unsparingly the deeply troubling realities we have to confront.”

She told the Dail today she was “pleased on a personal level” that she was found to have acted appropriately.

Ms Fitzgerald added Sgt McCabe had made clear he had no criticisms to make of her.

“His approach in November and at the Tribunal personally contrasted greatly with what I experienced in the Dail in the November and indeed in the responses from some political parties most recently,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Allegations made against her by members of the Opposition last November led to Ms Fitzgerald’s resignation. She was fully vindicated in the tribunal report.

The Government has to be dragged kicking and screaming to court or through tribunals before they will acknowledge what is happening to individuals in the employment of the State

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said as a citizen of the Irish State Sgt McCabe had made “huge personal sacrifices” and it would make Ireland a better place.

Ms Zappone said she had “apologised unreservedly” as a member of the Government to the McCabe family for the “failures which could have destroyed their lives”.

“If we have learned anything from this it is the absolute necessity of having a culture of openness and integrity,” Ms Zappone said.

Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness told the Dail the Government’s apology to Sgt McCabe was the “most blatant, brazen piece of hypocrisy” he had seen in a long time.

He said Sgt McCabe had been telling his story for 12 years, highlighting issues in the force, but the Government had “stood idly by and did absolutely nothing”.

The former Public Accounts Committee chairman said the Justice Minister continued to preside over a department that “continued to be dysfunctional”.

He said the public was now demanding truth and justice and yet they were getting anything but truth and justice.

“The Government has to be dragged kicking and screaming to court or through tribunals before they will acknowledge what is happening to individuals in the employment of the State,” Mr McGuinness said.

Thomas Pringle TD paid tribute to Sgt McCabe but said he had no faith such a situation would not arise again.

Mr Pringle said it was inevitable something similar would happen unless significant reforms made.

“That’s the sad thing,” he said.

The tribunal found Mr Callinan was part of a “campaign of calumny” against Sgt McCabe and he was actively aided by his former press officer, Superintendent David Taylor.

The report also found Sgt McCabe had “exemplified” hard work and was “repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer”.

Sgt McCabe had accused the force of malpractice, including the quashing of penalty points, and later made a complaint against Mr Callinan.

- Press Association

Most Read in Ireland