Former Tánaiste and justice minister Frances Fitzgerald “made a mistake” in her handling of the Maurice McCabe email saga and she made the right decision to resign, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe believes, writes Irish Examiner Political Editor,Daniel McConnell.
Mr Donohoe’s comments are the first time any Fine Gael minister has departed from the position that Ms Fitzgerald “did nothing wrong”.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Donohoe said repeatedly that in his view she erred in her judgement which threatened to collapse the Government and cause a shock general election before Christmas.
“I believe she made a mistake, she made a mistake,” he said.
However, Mr Donohoe said he felt the price she paid for her mistake was excessive.
“I also don’t believe her exit from government and her resignation was proportionate to that mistake,” he said.
“All of us who work in sensitive roles, as Frances did, we do make mistakes in them. We always try to recognise those mistakes where we can and learn from them, be accountable for them.
“I really felt and still do now, that across her entire tenure in office, everything I had seen her do in Justice, particularly when I worked with her as public expenditure minister, felt she was on the right side of the debate,” he said.
However, despite feeling that the resignation on November 28 was disproportionate, Mr Donohoe does accept it was required in order to save the Government at a critical time.
“Her resignation was not proportionate to the mistake but from the point of the stability of the Government and the ability of the Government to do what it needed to do on Brexit, it was the right decision for her and the right decision for the Government,” he said.
Mr Donohoe said that he “regretted” the circumstances of the crisis which forced Ms Fitzgerald from office.
“On a personal level, while I am always delighted to see the progress of new colleagues like Josepha, I really regret the circumstances of her resignation.”
Mr Donohoe made it clear that he believed Ms Fitzgerald would see off the crisis until fresh emails emerged which showed she was aware of the legal strategy of the ex-Garda commissioner to undermine Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
“Up until the final emails came out, I did not think her resignation was inevitable. I thought she had every prospect of being able to stay in office.
“Up until those emails came out, what I thought was likely from her was a statement of some kind, maybe a statement in the Dáil, a statement to Cabinet, something like that,” he said.
“But when the final emails came out, I think she realised that from the point of view of preserving the Government, that her resignation was needed,” he added.
Mr Donohoe said that he felt that overall her decision at such a critical time in the context of Brexit was understandable and correct.
“On a political level and on a Government level I fully understand it, it was the right thing for the Government when you think of where we ended up the following week with Brexit, it would have been so difficult for any government in the early phase of an election to manage that, so difficult.”
Mr Donohoe said that he does not believe there will be a snap general election this year and is confident he will introduce another budget in October.
“No, I have not delivered my last budget, there will be another budget. I believe the Confidence and Supply Arrangement will see out the third budget. I believe it will deliver a third budget,” he told the Irish Examiner.
Asked when he thought the next election would be, he said: “I don’t know and if I were to put a date beside it, it makes it far more likely that the election would happen before then.
“I believe this Government will last all of 2018”.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.