The controversy that FG just cannot seem to shake off

Just what are Charlie Flanagan and Frances Fitzgerald playing at?

Why can’t they simply give an answer as to whether the Department of Justice and Ms Fitzgerald as the then minister knew what the then Garda commissioner was up to in May 2015? 

This, we know, was the month that Nóirín O’Sullivan’s lawyers were questioning Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission about the allegations he raised about the force.

As we also know now, lawyers for Ms O’Sullivan, acting to instruction, set out to attack McCabe’s credibility.

In recent days, Labour TD Alan Kelly has tabled a series of very specific questions to Mr Flanagan, the current justice minister, about what the department knew as to the legal strategy employed by the then commissioner and her agents.

The questions, some very specific in nature and based on detailed information Mr Kelly claims he has received, have drawn a bizarre response from the department and a deep reluctance by Ms Fitzgerald to talk about it.

It, too, has drawn a strange response from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Flanagan’s initial responses to Mr Kelly were deemed to be so poor in quality that Mr Kelly referred them to the office of Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghail for adjudication.

It has come to light that Mr O’Fearghail’s office told Mr Kelly the department has refused to engage with their inquiries and, as such, the Ceann Comhairle is stepping up his inquiry.

We await the outcome of that.

As for the Tánaiste, on Newstalk on Sunday, she refused to detail what she knew about the commissioner’s legal strategy in dealing with Sgt McCabe.

When pressed by presenter Chris Donoghue on whether she knew of the plan to attack Sgt McCabe, Ms Fitzgerald refused to answer.

“Look, if I start answering questions like that at this point, I’m effectively cutting across the work of the commission,” she said., and that’s why that commission was set up and we’ve an excellent judge, Charleton examining that,” she said. “I’ve always been clear that whistleblowers need to be respected, listened to, and their issues dealt with,” she added.

She was in Dubai yesterday, but it was confirmed that she did not speak to the Taoiseach about it over the weekend despite them having gathered in Co Cavan for their party conference.

This brings us to the boss.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he wants to speak to Mr Flanagan and Ms Fitzgerald before he forms a view. But it is clear he is nervous about what potentially will come out.

He is certainly not saying there is nothing to see here.

The bottom line is that either the Tánaiste and the department knew nothing about what went on and are, for some reason, not willing to say that — or they knew something and are trying to conceal it.

You would think that if they knew nothing then they would want to kill off any further controversy as quickly as possible.

This controversy has already cost Fine Gael considerably by way of a taoiseach, a justice minister, and two garda commissioners since 2014.

But rather than do that, Mr Flanagan decided to hide behind the cover of the Disclosures Tribunal and accused Mr Kelly (not in name) of being irresponsible in asking his questions.

Mr Flanagan’s statement drew a stinging rebuke from Mr Kellyhis former ministerial colleague.

“Minister Flanagan has once again failed to answer the series of questions that I have put to him. It’s a very simple question. If the department did not know, just say so.

“There is no need to hide behind the Charleton Tribunal as it wouldn’t be part of it. So, what is Minister Flanagan hiding from?” Meanwhile, Mr Kelly called for Mr Varadkar to give “career-defining” answers on this issue.

Fianna Fáil too now seem to be warming to the controversy, with their justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, voicing his concerns too as to what is going on.

“Having established the correct information, the Government should give a straight answer to the following simple question: Was the Tánaiste or any of her officials in the Department of Justice aware in May 2015 that the Garda commissioner would challenge the integrity and motivation of Sergeant McCabe at the commission of investigation,” he said.

It truly is a scandal that has become a cancer on Fine Gael.

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