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Is the Charleton tribunal and Maurice McCabe raised on the doorsteps with Fitzgerald? 'Not particularly'

Minister Regina Doherty says she doesn’t believe the electorate will punish Fine Gael over the housing crisis.

Former Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald who is a Fine Gael candidate in the european elections.
Former Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald who is a Fine Gael candidate in the european elections.
Image: Sam Boal

ARE PEOPLE RAISING the case of whistleblower Maurice McCabe and the Disclosures Tribunal on the campaign trail with Fine Gael MEP candidate Frances Fitzgerald.

“Not particularly,” she told reporters today at one of Fine Gael’s last press event ahead of the election on Friday. 

In November 2017, Fitzgerald resigned following days of controversy around the legal strategy used against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission.

A year later, Fitzgerald was vindicated by the Disclosures Tribunal report published in October 2018.

“What I think the view of the public is in relation to that issue is that Judge Charleton dealt with it very comprehensively, after extremely long where he heard from everybody and conclusively decided that I had acted appropriately and that it was in fact in the interests of the country when I resigned – and that is why I made that decision,” the Dublin constituency candidate said today.

When asked if people were raising the issue on the doorsteps, she said “not particularly”, adding:

I find the vast majority of people are saying to me that they’re quite unhappy at the way it was handled actually, in terms of really what was in effect the opposition deciding that I had to resign.
But I did it in the interests of the country because I didn’t want to see an election at that time.
It would not have been in the interests of the country in terms of where the Brexit discussions were at.

She added that there ha been “huge support” for her, stating:

I think there is a lot of lessons for a lot of people to learn from those events actually.

Garda police disclosures tribunal Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Source: Niall Carson

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 tribunal findings at the time, 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”. 

Questions were asked of the former 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.

The tribunal found 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”.

Housing crisis

One issue that is coming up on the doorsteps is housing, but Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said today she didn’t believe the electorate would punish Fine Gael over the housing crisis.

“Housing is still an issue, we recognise that. It is one of our largest priorities. If it wasn’t coming up on the doors I think there would be something wrong. Everyone recognises that the solutions are there but they haven’t materialised in finding a home for everybody. The plan is working, we are only halfway through a five year programme.

“Yes, people are discussing it with us on the doors which is why we are trying to bring each and every option of houses to people to give them choices. I really don’t think that people are going to punish us. People are engaging with us. Yes, they are being critical of some policies but that does not mean that there is an anger out there, or there is a want for change,” she said.

She said the government’s five year plan “is working”, adding: “We will keep going until everybody who wants a home, has a home.”

Fine Gael’s Director of Elections for the local elections, John Paul Phelan said it is Fine Gael’s target in the local elections to be the first party in government in 20 years to increase their seats and increase their vote in local elections.

“That is no mean feat. If it is achieved it will be the second time in 40 years that it will have happened. Housing is an issue during the election campaign, there is no doubt about it, what has become apparent throughout the campaign is other issues such as climate change and broadband have come up, but I would emphasise that this particular local election campaign has been very different than the last two in that it has been really a local election,” he said.

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