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'It was not a lazy dodging': Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald vindicated by Charleton report

Fitzgerald resigned following controversy about what she knew of the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy.

Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Oct 11th 2018, 7:14 PM

FORMER TÁNAISTE FRANCES Fitzgerald has been vindicated by the Disclosures Tribunal report published this afternoon

The tribunal was tasked with looking into allegations that there had been a smear campaign against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe orchestrated by senior gardaí.

It also examined whether then-commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan used unjustified grounds to challenge Maurice McCabe’s credibility and motivation at the O’Higgins Commission. 

The report was also tasked with looking at contact between the gardaí and relevant government departments on this matter.

Writing in the report, Justice Peter Charleton states that the tribunal accepts the evidence of former Tánaiste on her response to the O’Higgins Commission events, which centred on what she knew about the legal strategy against McCabe, as “an honest appraisal of the situation”. 

Reacting to the publication, Fitzgerald said that she was pleased the report had found her to have “acted appropriately, used my judgement well, and that my evidence has been accepted as truthful”.

“I established the Tribunal to find the truth about very disturbing information given to me when I was Minister for Justice and Equality, and am pleased that it is proving effective in the quest for the truth in these complex matters,” she said in a statement. 

There are many lessons to be drawn from the Report, which requires thorough and careful reading.

‘Not a lazy dodging’

The tribunal finds:

It was not a lazy dodging of the issues but rather a considered response to the information. The tribunal is satisfied that the Minister and the Garda Commissioner did not speak about the matter.

The report also adds that Fitzgerald “selflessly decided to resign in the national interest”.  

Last November, questions were asked of the minister about what she knew about the  legal strategy being used against whistleblower McCabe.

The Department of Justice published a number of documents relating to whether Fitzgerald knew of the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy. 

Among the documents was an email from Fitzgerald’s private secretary which said that she had “noted” the email which highlighted a row between the legal team for the Garda Commissioner and lawyers for McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation. 

The Tánaiste had told the Dáil she did not remember reading the email.

‘Probable minister read the email’ 

The tribunal finds that “it is probable that the minister read this email at some stage on the Friday, using her mobile device. It was some days later, on 25 May 2015, that the matter came back noted as having been read by her. Her decision was not to interfere”.

Following days of controversy around the legal strategy being used against McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission (and with the threat of Christmas election on the hands of the government) Fitzgerald resigned as Tánaiste and Minister for Business.

She said she believed the decision was necessary “to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time”.

At the time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had accepted her resignation “with deep regret” adding that:

It is my strong view that a good woman is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing.

Commenting on her resignation in the report, Charleton states that Fitzgerald had faced “a storm” of allegations for “failing to step in when McCabe was accused of false sexual assault allegations before the O’Higgins Commission”.

“There were no such accusations, even on the basis of the small snippets of transcript illegally passed to the media,” Charleton states, essentially vindicating Fitzgerald in his report. 

The report states that at “a crucial juncture for Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, the Government of our country came close to falling and in the ultimate result Frances Fitzgerald TD, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, who had formerly been Minister for Justice and Equality, resigned from office on 28 November 2017″.

Party support 

With the publication of the report today, party colleagues have tweeted their support for Fitzgerald. 

Health Minister Simon Harris, who has a close relationship with Fitzgerald, having worked for her before his time in politics, tweeted that the charges against the former Tánaiste were “unwarranted”. The question being asked now is whether she will be brought back into the fold

With reporting from Adam Daly

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