A radical break-up of the Department of Justice into two has formed the basis of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s offering to Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin in a bid to avoid a general election, writes Daniel McConnell.
The two leaders met last night in Dublin for the second time in 24 hours. The meeting broke up last night without agreement but it looks likely that an apology from Ms Fitzgerald, along with radical reforms to the Department of Justice may be enough to avoid an election, according to sources.
The Irish Examiner has confirmed that Mr Varadkar has agreed to break up the “basket case” department in a bid to end the political crisis.
Despite the talks, several ministers said they believed this Government is effectively over and are working on the basis that the election will take place on Tuesday, December 19.
Mr Martin has insisted on the resignation of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, while Mr Varadkar remains steadfast in his support of her.
It also emerged that ex-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan telephoned a senior official in the department in May 2015 to inform them of her intended legal strategy at the O’Higgins Commission in relation to whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
The call is said to have occured “at the time” a similar email was received and read by Ms Fitzgerald.
A spokeswoman for the Tanaiste told the Irish Examiner she was “not aware” of the call at the time.
Sources have confirmed that three proposals were tabled, including the radical plans to overhaul the department during discusssions throughout the weekend.
It is understood Mr Varadkar agreed to “restructure the Department into clear Justice and Home Affairs portfolios” and “assign the redefined divisions to align with the new structure”.
“It is recommended that Justice should include civil and criminal law reform, crime and security, and international policy; Home Affairs should include policing, prisons, courts, equality, and integration,” it has been confirmed.
A deputy Secretary General is to be appointed to take responsibility for the Home Affairs portfolio.
A Government spokesman said: “The talks are at a sensitive stage. There is no question of the Tánaiste being asked to resign.”
The Department of Justice has confirmed that a wider trawl of documents relating to the McCabe email saga produced confirmation of a phonecall from Ms O’Sullivan to an unnamed official which occured “at the time” Sgt McCabe was being cross-examined.
The department has said the conversation occurred “at the time” of the legal dispute in the tribunal, but said they had no written record or otherwise and could say no more due to the upcoming Disclosures Tribunal.
The revelation has been brought to light by RTÉ’s This Week programme.
A spokesman said: “In the interests of clarity, we can state that, in the course of our wider trawl for records in recent days, we contacted a former senior official who stated that he recalled the former Garda Commissioner mentioning to him at the time that a legal dispute had arisen between Senior Counsel at the Tribunal, along the lines of what was set out in the email to the Minister’s private secretary on 15 May 2015.”
Labour justice spokesman Alan Kelly has said it is hugely significant that there was a phone call between Ms O’Sullivan and the Department of Justice. He said it showed ongoing contact between senior gardaí and the department at the time.
Ms Fitzgerald did not discuss a controversial email with the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when the pair met a day after the mail was received.
The Tánaiste and Ms O’Sullivan met at an official Garda event a day later but did not discuss the inquiry.
Meanwhile, former Labour minister Joe Costello has said that he intends to go to the High Court tomorrow to prevent any dissolution of the Dáil until planned constituency changes have taken place.
Mr Costello said that, as a result of the last census and a Constituency Commission Report, the Oireachtas is supposed to pass legislation to increase Dáil membership, and that failure to do so could lead to a constitutional challenge.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner