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Sinn Féin submits motion of no confidence in Tanaiste

Tánaiste and former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has come under fire over how much she knew.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews

Updated 3.45pm

SINN FEIN HAS SUBMITTED a motion of no confidence in Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, as a row over an email about Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe rumbles on.

However, Fine Gael Minister Simon Harris said that the move is a “political stunt”.

In addition, he said: “The Government has full confidence in Frances Fitzgerald, as Tánaiste and as Minister for Business”

Speaking outside Government Buildings, he said: ”What we do not now need is a kangaroo court, or a parallel process.”

He said that the other parties in the Dáil understand that due process has to take place.

The Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, has answered questions on the issue extensively through this week, said Harris, and has answered them truthfully, but the only place to deal with any issues around whistleblowers is at the Tribunal.

Earlier, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was told by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald that today was her “last chance” to answer questions and offer clarity on the email she received which highlighted the legal strategy the former Garda Commissioner planned to use against whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

“What we have seen today from Sinn Féin is a political stunt and an attempt to undermine the work of a tribunal,” said Harris, something he pointed out SF are good at.

“The email that we have been discussing all week is an email that is with the Charleton tribunal. I frankly think that Justice Charleton is a far better person to adjudicate on the email rather than Mary Lou McDonald.

“She [Fitzgerald] has answered questions truthfully. The only place we can establish every fact… is at the tribunal. I think most citizens in this country understand that.”

He said he “fully respects” the position that Fianna Fáil are in, but said Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and “the overwhelming majority of citizens in this country want that process to take place”.

“If we ask taxpayers to fund a tribunal, and for political convenience you engage in stunts, you disrespect the citizens of this country.”

He said the last thing needed is no due process, due to “snippets, allegations and innuendo”.

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told reporters this afternoon that his party are not trying to precipitate an election, but are simply asking the Tánaiste to be accountable.

But he added that Sinn Féin is ready for a general election.

This can be avoided if the Tánaiste does “the right thing”, said Ó Laoghaire, a comment reiterated by his party colleague David Cullinane:

“The only reasonable course of action is for the Tánaiste to resign or be sacked.”

Hitting back at the comments made by Minister Harris, Cullinane said Sinn Féin want to ensure the government is accountable for its actions.

Comments referencing ‘kangaroo courts’ are simply a deflection, he explained, stating that it speaks more about the trouble the government is in.

“Snide remarks are not going to cut it,” he said, adding that there are more serious issues at play than name calling.

He concluded by stating that the ball is now in the government’s court.

Email row

The furore over this email in May 2015 – which Fitzgerald said she can’t remember, but most likely read – has been rumbling on for most of the week.

The email concerned a row that had developed between the legal team for the then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and lawyers for McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday night, Fitzgerald said the Department of Justice informed her last Thursday that the email had been located that was sent to her about the subject in May 2015. She said she did not remember the email when it was brought up last week.

original The email in question Source: TheJournal.ie

The email mentions an allegation that “a serious criminal complaint” against Maurice McCabe – which he had always denied -  had not been properly investigated by the Garda Síochána”.

The disclosure of the email comes after it was revealed by RTÉ last year that former Commissioner O’Sullivan’s legal team had been instructed to “challenge the motivation and credibility of Sergeant McCabe” during the O’Higgins Commission.

Defending her position today, Fitzgerald was adamant that she has always acted on behalf of whistleblowers, and took issue with accusations that she failed to defend McCabe against this malicious legal strategy before his cross-examination.

Responding to questions from the Fianna Fáil Justice spokesperson, Jim O’Callaghan, Fitzgerald said there were “no efforts” by her to suppress the email and she did not believe by anyone else.

O’Callaghan said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave false statements to the Dáil last week due to the information he had at that time and questioned how the Tanaiste and the department could let Varadkar give misinformation in the Dáil.

He said his party’s issue is that Fitzgerald appeared to know about the line the strategy was taking and stood by and did nothing to defend McCabe.

Fitzgerald continued with her defence that she had “no hand, act or part” in the strategy.

This was followed with chatter from the benches that this was not something people had an issue with.

“You were privy to the strategy,” said O’Callaghan. The Tánaiste said she could not legally intervene and questioned why O’Callaghan, a barrister, would ask her such a thing.

On the issue of the timeline of when she was aware of the email and when she informed the Taoiseach, she maintained she got it last Thursday and told Varadkar about it late on Monday night (after the Prime Time programme which revealed the details of the email).

It has since been confirmed that the email was found by the Department of Justice on 9 November, yet the Taoiseach was not informed at the time.

In a scathing attack on the Tánaiste, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said she believed there was a “conspiracy” between the gardaí and the Ðepartment of Justice on the issue.

She said she did not accept that the Fitzgerald had “forgotten” the email.

“You may think you’ll weather this storm and rise above it – but you won’t,” said McDonald.

Confusion

Fitzgerald said yesterday she likely did not remember the email as it said she did not need to take action.

“I can only assume that I did read it but I did not remember it when I spoke to the Taoiseach,” Fitzgerald said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that he stands by Fitzgerald and said she did what she should have done. He said that he does have confidence in her.

However, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has said that “the Taoiseach’s continued defence of Táinaiste Frances Fitzgerald is not credible or acceptable”.

“The Taoiseach says he still has confidence in Frances Fitzgerald, despite the fact that she had refused to bring clarity to her actions regarding the malicious legal strategy constructed by the Garda Commissioner’s legal team to destroy the reputation of Sergeant McCabe,” McDonald said.

McDonald slammed Fitzgerald for doing nothing to protect McCabe, “despite her commitments”.

This calls into question the Tánaiste’s competence, judgement and indeed her honour. It calls into question her fitness to remain in office.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, Brendan Howlin said that Labour’s approach on the whole issue is “aimed at getting proof” and that what is happening now is that they are being “drip-fed the truth”.

Speaking yesterday on Morning Ireland, Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall said that greater clarity was needed over how much Fitzgerald had known and why she had taken no action.

“It is unbelievable that the minister – if she had read that – would not have taken some action,” said Shortall.

Clearly alarm bells should have started ringing.

“It’s not enough to say ‘I can’t remember’,” said Shortall.

Sinn Féin’s motion is due before the Dáil on Wednesday. It is now up to Fianna Fáil to determine their position. If they feel they cannot convey confidence in the minister, a Christmas election could be on the cards – but most parties appear to want to avoid this scenario.

The decision may fall on the Taoiseach as to whether he is willing to stand by his Tánaiste in order to avoid an election – or be forced to take action against Fitzgerald.

With reporting by Christina Finn

Read: ‘It’s not enough to say she can’t remember’: Frances Fitzgerald under pressure in McCabe email row

More: Frances Fitzgerald sends TDs email at centre of Maurice McCabe row

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