Election Crisis: Ministers desert Fitzgerald as pressure rises

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s position in Government was last night deemed to be “untenable” by the opposition and many of her own ministerial colleagues as talks to avoid a general election entered the 11th hour.

Newly released documents show Ms Fitzgerald’s defence of the May 2015 McCabe email scandal is in tatters after it emerged that she received three emails advising her of the legal strategy by the former Garda commissioner against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

None of these emails were sent to the Disclosures Tribunal despite their high significance.

She has repeatedly claimed she did not know anything until May 2016.

Despite the information, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted he still had “full confidence” in Ms Fitzgerald as he held a late-night meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin in a bid to avoid an election. However, his stance has been criticised, given that he knew of the new emails and their significance since “over the weekend” and yet he continued to express confidence in her.

Ms Fitzgerald’s ministerial colleagues, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said the time has come for her to go.

“Arguably that time was the start of last week.” one minister said. “What it also raises is how were these emails not given to the tribunal before now, what was the department at?

“We should have known about these for a long time.”

The minister also suggested it was unlikely Ms Fitzgerald would have been reappointed if the emails had been uncovered when the tribunal was set up.

Another minister last night said he had spoken to his Fine Gael colleagues, who were all “very unhappy”, adding that it is was now felt that she should step down.

He said members were also angry that she had “persisted in defending herself” even after she had received the latest emails on Friday.

New Department of Justice files showed she was fully aware of the email and an “aggressive” Garda approach to Sgt McCabe, and that her officials liaised with Nóirín O’Sullivan on how to avoid answering July 2015 media questions.

The records, released last night, raise serious questions over why the files were not sent to the Charleton Tribunal and whether Mr Varadkar was aware of their contents when he staunchly defended Ms Fitzgerald in recent days.

Over the past fortnight, Ms Fitzgerald has repeatedly said she was not aware or could not remember the May 15, 2015, email, sent to her by a senior official outlining the garda legal strategy against Sgt McCabe.

However, documents released after 6pm last night have raised serious questions over the defence, and over any possibility of Ms Fitzgerald surviving the latest scandal to hit the gardaí and Department of Justice.

On May 15, 2015, the documents show, Ms Fitzgerald’s officials were sent an email from assistant secretary to the department’s Garda division, Michael Flahive, outlining the Garda strategy.

On May 25, 2015, Chris Quattrociocchi, her private secretary, responded again to say “the minister has noted the below”, confirming that, 10 days later, the email was still being discussed and that it had been read by Ms Fitzgerald.

The same emails also show Ms Fitzgerald’s officials liaised with Ms O’Sullivan on how to answer July 2015 questions on the legal strategy from RTÉ.

On July 4, 2015, Mr O’Leary wrote directly to Ms Fitzgerald to tell her that “the garda commissioner phoned me to let me know they had received queries” on the issue.

Ms Fitzgerald was also told of the “aggressive” approach to Sgt McCabe by the garda team at the tribunal, and was advised to answer media questions by saying the whistleblower was a valued member of the force.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach last night confirmed that Mr Varadkar had received the documents “over the weekend” and continued to support the Tánaiste.

Calling on her to resign, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the new information meant her position was now “untenable”.

His colleague Alan Kelly — whose Dáil questioning was key to uncovering the email scandal — last night told the Irish Examiner: “These documents show there was an awareness, and the Tánaiste should now do the right thing for the country and go. If not, then the Taoiseach needs to do the right thing for the country.

“These documents prove beyond doubt there was an awareness of the legal strategy. Morally, the Tánaiste needed to act, and she didn’t.”

The Social Democrats have said the Tánaiste’s position is untenable in the light of the further documents released about Maurice McCabe.


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