LATEST: Taoiseach refuses to discuss departure plans

LATEST 8.30pm: The Taoiseach has refused to discuss any plans for his departure, saying he is focused on his job as leader of the country.

The story today so far:

  • Pressure is building on Taoiseach Enda Kenny regarding his Government’s handling of the Maurice McCabe controversy
  • Two Fine Gael TDs have now publically called on Taoiseach to clarify when he intends to step down as leader
  • The Government have won last night’s motion of confidence by 57 votes to 52
  • Taoiseach Enda Kenny offers full apology to whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe
  • Read More:
    Ministers tell Enda Kenny to resign as Taoiseach or face a motion of no confidence early next week
  • Cabinet agrees terms of reference for public inquiry into the Sgt Maurice McCabe controversy and will now probe evidence relating to a number of whistleblowers and will look at possible contact between Tusla and Garda personnel
  • Senator Michael McDowell says Nóirín O’Sullivan should be asked to step aside during Tribunal
  •  Leo Varadkar says he believes Enda Kenny will know when the time is right to step aside as Fine Gael leader.
  • Leo Varadkar's been installed as the bookies favourite to succeed Kenny.

Update 8.30pm: The Taoiseach has refused to discuss any plans for his departure, saying he is focused on his job as leader of the country.

Enda Kenny's defiant stance may set up a confrontation with his own TDs, who are demanding he give a timetable to step down.

Fine Gael's vice-chairman Pat Deering has threatened a motion of no confidence next week if Mr Kenny has not announced a departure plan.

But this evening he has refused to entertain any talk of retirement, and says he has got plenty on his plate.

"I'm focusing entirely on a really busy and challenging agenda up ahead and we've got lots of work for all of our party to engage themselves in, ministerial portfolios and programmes for Government to implement. That's what we should be about."

Henry McKean of NewsTalk travelled to Enda Kenny's hometown of Castlebar to hear what people in his hometown think about the pressure on him to step down as Taoiseach.

Update 5pm: The Taoiseach remains under pressure this evening to name the date for his departure from the office.

Leo Varadkar's been installed as the bookies favourite to succeed him, the Social Protection Minister says Mr Kenny will know when the time is right to depart.

But backbench TDs say a timeline for Mr Kenny to leave will have to be spelled out in the coming days.

Leo Varadkar, described Mr Kenny's leadership as "fabulous".

But he added: "The events of this week showed a timeline for a general election is now shorter than we might have thought.

"The Taoiseach has said he won't lead us into the next general election and I've absolutely every confidence that he will know when the right time is for himself and the party and the country to step aside."

Another of the frontrunners to replace him is Simon Coveney, Housing Minister, while rising star Simon Harris, the Health Minister, has also been named in some circles as a potential candidate.

Mr Kenny had already committed to stepping down as leader of his Fine Gael party ahead of the next election.

His supporters and colleagues will now be looking for a candidate to fill his sizeable reputation on the European stage as Brexit looms and Ireland needs someone at the helm of government to keep issues affecting relations with Britain, such as the border, customs, trade and travel, front and centre throughout negotiations.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan echoed that sentiment. He said another election was closer but added that Mr Kenny has a "skill set that is very valuable for the country".

Update 3.45pm: The Policing Authority has expressed confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The Authority says it has confidence in the ability of Garda management to do a challenging and difficult job.

The next public meeting with the Garda Commissioner and senior management is due to take place next week.

Update 2.40pm: Leo Varadkar says he believes Enda Kenny will know when the time is right to step aside as Fine Gael leader.

The Taoiseach has been given 5 days to outline plans for his departure, or face a no confidence motion.

Various Ministers have said that events of the past week involving Maurice McCabe have moved an election closer.

Leo Varadkar, seen as the favourite to replace Enda Kenny, said the Taoiseach will know when the time is right to go:

"The events of the last week have show the timeline for the next General Election is shorter than we thought ... I have every confidence he will know when the right time is ... to step aside."

Update 2pm: TDs are debating the terms of reference for a Tribunal into the treatment of Garda whistleblowers.

The expanded Tribunal will look at the handling of the Tusla file on Maurice McCabe, and whether it was used by Gardaí to smear him.

It will also look into the treatment of Keith Harrison other whistleblowers, as well as that of Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

However, the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald says it is important that nobody rushes to conclusions before all evidence is heard.

She said: "Everyone has basic human rights and it would be a cruel irony if our beliefs about the appalling treatment of some lead to the ill-treatement of others.

"Hearing the other side is a basic requirement for fair procedure."

Update 1pm: A former Attorney general and justice minister says the Government should ask the Garda Commissioner to step aside during the Tribunal.

Senator Michael McDowell, who did represent Sergeant Maurice McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission, says Nóirín O’Sullivan should be asked to step aside or resign.

Mr McDowell said: "I want to state here in the strongest possible terms that there is no reason at all for the Government to permit the Commissioner to remain in office.

"She must step aside, either temporarily for the three-month duration of the tribunal until it has reported, or else permanently."

Update 11.40am: Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said the Maurice McCabe crisis has brought the idea of a General Election centre stage, write Daniel McConnell and Eamon Quinn of the Irish Examiner.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin this morning, Mr Noonan said it had been a difficult week for the Government but that ministers are united now.

He said: "It has brought the idea of an election centre stage on the political agenda and that wasn’t the case when we came back in January."

Mr Noonan said no Fine Gael representative had raised the issue of the date of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s departure. He said that despite a difficult week the Government was united.

He said Mr Kenny had previously said he would not lead Government into next election. On the date, it was entirely a decision for the Taoiseach to make but said that Mr Kenny has a skillset given the challenges of Brexit that lie ahead.

Pat Deering, the vice-chair of the party, has called on the Taoiseach to reassess his position, adding that "a motion of no confidence" in Enda Kenny "is coming down the line" if he doesn’t go in the next number of days.

The Government, meanwhile has signed off on the terms of reference for the new tribunal of inquiry into the mistreatment of Garda whistleblowers.

Update 9.58am: The Cabinet has unanimously agreed to the terms of reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry into the allegations of a smear campaign against Garda whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

They will go before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: "The terms of reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry are comprehensive and clear in their focus. The Tánaiste believes that what is now proposed reflects the will of the Oireachtas.

"Mr Justice Charleton will chair the Tribunal and is available to begin work this week. The Tánaiste has thanked him for agreeing to take on this role."

It has been extended to cover other officers who exposed wrongdoing.

The tribunal will also investigate the State child and family agency Tusla for its role in the scandal, relating to its file containing false allegations of sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The inquiry will also look at allegations of "inappropriate contacts" between the force and Tusla in relation to garda Keith Harrison and other officers.

It will investigate any "pattern of the creation, distribution and use by Tusla of files containing allegations of criminal misconduct" against rank and file gardai who alleged wrongdoing in the force and of the use of the files "knowingly" by top brass to discredit whistleblowers.

Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton, who will head the tribunal, will have to issue an interim report within three months.

Priority will be given to allegations against Maurice McCabe with an interim report to be provided within three months.

Other whistleblowers will be looked at later and the Tribunal will be asked to investigative any negative links between Gardaí and Tusla.

Update 9.50am: Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that Enda Kenny and his government are “on borrowed time”.

Deputy McDonald made the comments as the Fine Gael led minority government scraped through a vote of confidence in the Dáil last night with the effective support of Fianna Fáil.

She said: “This Taoiseach and his shambolic government are clearly on borrowed time, and the clock is ticking.

“Enda Kenny and other senior cabinet Ministers, in their mishandling of the scandal caused by the alleged campaign of character assassination waged against Garda Whistleblower Sgt McCabe, have proven themselves to be utterly incompetent.

“However, this incompetence is not a new development. The unprecedented and ever-worsening crises in housing, health and public transport is proof positive that this government is not fit for office.

“This government has lost its authority and only remains in power by way of favour from Fianna Fáil and Micheál Martin. Abstaining on vote of confidence in a government is not an expression of neutrality. It is an expression of support."

Ms McDonald said Fianna Fáil have "put their own narrow, electoral considerations ahead of the needs of the people" by keeping the Government in power.

She said: "The sooner there is a general election the better. The chaos has to be brought to an end. This Taoiseach and his government has to go."

Update 8.50am: The Government Chief Whip, Regina Doherty, says those in Fine Gael seeking to replace Enda Kenny as leader should "think twice".

The Chief Whip says the Taoiseach should be given the opportunity to make a decision on his future in his own time.

Ms Doherty said: "You know what I don’t agree with is that there are people in my party that are planning to be disrespectful to the leader of the last 15 years.

"Well I think they should think twice, because it serves no purpose other than what Fine Gael normally do, that is to eat ourselves from the inside out."

Update 7.55am: Enda Kenny has been given days to resign as Taoiseach or he will face a motion of no confidence in his leadership early next week, accoring to

Read More:
The Irish Examiner.

Mr Kenny’s disintegrating authority is set be confronted by senior Fine Gael members in the coming days after ministers warned of the possibility of a snap election.

“Things are going to move very quickly,” said one senior minister last night.

“There’s a feeling the Taoiseach must now make way or he will be moved against by way of a motion at a meeting next week,” said the minister.

Ministers and backbench TDs called for an early meeting next week, before Mr Kenny travels to Brussels for a meeting on Brexit.

Party sources said the issue of his leadership was central to the move.

Mr Kenny has said that he will not lead the party into another general election, but ministers are worried about being prepared if an early poll is triggered.

Under the Fine Gael constitution the election of a new leader must be completed within 20 days of a vacancy arising.

The result will be decided by TDs, Senators, MEPs, party members and councillors.

Sources also stressed that ministers had called for “unity” in Fine Gael.

Party figures said Mr Kenny at the meeting accepted “responsibility” for what had happened in recent days but that there was also a need to focus on the inquiry into the treatment of whistleblowers.

Mr Kenny told the meeting he accepted that people had “pressures and frustration” and he was prepared to discuss these another day if necessary.

Earlier: The first moves to replace Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader were launched last night, hours before the Government won a vote of confidence in itself.

Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar called for the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party to begin preparations as early as next week for a General Election in the wake of the Garda whistleblower scandal.

Hours later the Government won a motion of confidence in itself by 57 to 52 with Fianna Fáil abstaining.

Government Ministers attacked Sinn Féin for the motion of no confidence with Simon Coveney saying they are getting on with the job of government.

He said: "What we will focus on is solving significant problems with solutions, solutions that can put a just solution in place for people like Maurice McCabe.

"The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are determined to do that this week and instead of actually finalising the terms of reference for a tribunal of inquiry that we want to put into place without any further delay, we are in here talking about a nonsensical motion."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered a full apology to whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe after the Government survived the confidence vote in the Dáil.

As he faced down an attempt to collapse the administration over the handling of allegations of a smear campaign against the respected officer, Mr Kenny said the unfounded child sex abuse slur was appalling.

"I therefore offer a full apology to Maurice McCabe and his family for the treatment that was meted out to them," the Taoiseach said.

A judge-led tribunal is to be held into allegations that the top brass of the Gardaí orchestrated a black propaganda campaign against Sgt McCabe among journalists and politicians.

Hearings are to be held in public, with the inquiry expected to be extended to cover other Garda whistleblowers who have alleged victimisation.

Also, an independent, international policing expert is to be brought into the country to carry out a "root and branch" audit of the Garda, focusing on the administration, ethos and culture of the force.

The Independent Alliance said it had secured agreement for the oversight reform, despite the existence of the Garda Inspectorate.

Mr Kenny defended his minority coalition’s handling of allegations of a sex abuse smear campaign following days of obfuscation over who knew the detail of the unfounded slur faced by the McCabe family.

"The Government’s sole objective in responding to the recent protected disclosures has been and remains to get to the full truth," he said.

"The false allegations against Sgt McCabe are simply appalling. Sex abuse is the worst crime a person can be accused of."

Judge Peter Charleton, of the Supreme Court, is expected to lead the tribunal into the McCabe affair.

He previously worked as senior counsel to the Morris Tribunal, which spent years examining corruption and negligence among some gardaí in Donegal in the 1990s.

Superintendent Dave Taylor made the allegation of a smear campaign in a protected disclosure last year.

He returned to work on Tuesday after being suspended for almost two years while a separate investigation ran into the alleged leaking of information to the media about the identities of Roma children taken into care over a suspected but unfounded kidnap concern.

Garda Keith Harrison is a second whistleblower who wants his case examined by Judge Charleton.

He has been on extended sick leave.

He claims he and his girlfriend endured covert and overt Garda surveillance, referrals to Tusla - the Child and Family Agency - and that they were the victim of rumour, innuendo and malicious falsehoods.

Mr Harrison, who was previously nominated for a Scott Medal for bravery, was stationed in Athlone when he stopped a colleague on suspicion of drink-driving in 2009.

He also raised concerns about drug-dealing investigations.

In a statement through his solicitor, he claimed there is an "orchestrated system and culture" among senior management of the force that dictates the treatment of whistleblowers.

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