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IT WON’T BE an easy afternoon for Frances Fitzgerald as she takes questions in the Dáil. 

She enters the chamber following days of controversy surrounding the treatment of garda whistleblowers. 

Expect fireworks. 

Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue, obviously, starts off with the garda story.

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He says that reforms have hit “stumbling block after stumbling” block and “confidence in the gardaí is allowed to drift and drift”.

He brings up the imminent strike action, as well as the allegations made by a whistleblower that he participated in a campaign against another member who made a protected disclosure.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” he adds.

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Addressing the story that protected disclosures were made to herself last week, Fitzgerald noted that a fundamental part of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 was to protect the identity of the whistleblower.

“I must protect the identity of those making the disclosures…. I simply cannot comment on their accuracy or otherwise,” she continued.

“It limits what I can say in this house but I intend to scrupulously [follow it up].

“We do have to do it in a way that is fair, proper and within the rule of the law.”

She said it would be an irony if this legislation “led us to do wrongdoing.”

What is important that a procedure is put in place that such claims are properly addressed.

Fitzgerald says she has been consulting with the Attorney General and she will deal with the protected disclosures.

However, she added it was not OK to jump to conclusions before allegations are properly tested: “I do not believe it is right for anyone to rush to judgement on these matters.”

It’s Mary Lou McDonald up now for Sinn Féin – unsurprisingly on the same topic of allegations against gardaí of orchestrating campaigns of intimidation and harassment against whistleblowers.

 

She likens her questions today to what would happen on Groundhog Day.

“You are her boss. She reports to you,” the deputy leader says of the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

“Do you have absolute confidence in the Garda Commissioner?” is her most important question here.

“Is an accusation now enough to secure a conviction?” asks Fitzgerald, who is getting a little testy now about the questions she is facing.

I cannot comment on the detail of the protected disclosures made to me but they are of the utmost seriousness.

“That is how they should be treated… But do not ask me as the minster charged … to set aside those principles in this case or any other case.”

In relation to the Garda Commissioner, she said no findings of wrongdoing have been made against her.

“She is entitled to our full confidence,” she concludes.

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“No, I don’t have any other protected disclosures,” Fitzgerald says, adding that the figures are publicly available.

A little argey-bargey now after she said that. McDonald says that Fitzgerald cannot mislead the public by saying that, noting that Primetime reported about another whistleblower making a disclosure this week.

Fitzgerald clarifies that she received the protected disclosures noted in the media on Tuesday – and they are on the only ones on her desk.

Mick Wallace has the four letters to the Justice Minister from whistleblower Nick Keogh with him in the Dáil chamber.

He also has a reply from her from May 2016 – he says it is the only one.

“It’s over two years, Minister, that myself and Deputy Daly have been telling you that huge problems have not been addressed.

“Two years,” he adds, waving his arms in disbelief.

Oh god, if any of it is true, how bad is it? I’ve lived my life in the real world and I know how bad it is out there. It is horrific, it is mind-numbing.

“We have met the two men who made the protected disclosures… Sitting down, listening to it face to face. Oh god. I’m not going to talk about it any more,” he adds with emotion.

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Wallace says there are many good gardaí who are shocked at how Nóirín O’Sullivan is operating the force.

He calls her regime corrosive.

Fitzgerald again repeating herself, saying that due process is important.

“What we have is a body of allegations being brought forward… they are serious and ought to be investigated. I will make sure there is follow-up depending on the outcome and output…”

She says for the first time there will be oversight and public meetings because of the Policing Authority.

She calls its board competent and notes that GSOC has more powers now.

“I am extremely concerned about policing in Athlone,” Fitzgerald adds, and tells Wallace that she has indeed written to him but is waiting on a reply.

Mick Wallace up again and he’s angry again.

He asks specific questions of the Justice Minister about certain personnel on the garda promotions list.

“What she says in public and what she does privately is 100% different,” he says of O’Sullivan.

“Was the O’Higgins Report not enough for you?

The dog on the street can tell that there was an effort on her part to undermine the credibility of Maurice McCabe.

“As long as you leave her in position, there will be more allegations… it’s only going to get worse.”

And we’ve finished up with the current garda controversy as Catherine Murphy from the SocDems brings up the other current scandal – the housing crisis.

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“There are virtually no affordable properties available,” she says.

“One couple due a baby within weeks were frantic looking” came to her last week, she says. They had a reasonable income but were not living together yet.

“They are telling me that they are finding themselves in a bidding war,” she adds.

One couple told her that a property advertised for €1,300 was up to €1,800 per month in the bidding war by the time they left the house.

Fitzgerald tells Murphy that the housing crisis is a priority and that the government – through Simon Coveney’s plan – is looking at both short- and long-term solutions.

“Obviously, we do not want to continue to see people having to move into hotels,” she adds.

“There are points when you can see something is coming to a crux. We are there now,” Murphy responds to Fitzgerald’s answer.

“This has reached a new level. The Simon Community survey demonstrates this in hard facts.

“There has got to be solutions that can be accelerated and delivered within months.”

The latest figures on rough sleepers showed that 168 people slept rough in Dublin on a night last month.

Murphy warns that soon there will be a scenario that hotels will no longer be available even for emergency accommodation.

“I do have to say to you that I am seeing people moving out of hotels… I do see people moving into housing and that is to be welcomed,” Fitzgerald continues.

The urgency is understood by government, she adds.

And that’s that…

Lots of questions, not many answers in today’s session.

We’ll be keeping you updated on all topics brought up today on the site.

And, as always, we’ll be here liveblogging, factchecking, explaining, reporting and more from Leinster House. See you there.

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