Focus on Minister Katherine Zappone over Tusla file

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone is under pressure to explain why she failed to inform Cabinet colleagues about false sex abuse allegations against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Terms for an inquiry into an alleged garda smear campaign are set to be extended after a fresh political crisis engulfed the Government over how Sgt McCabe was treated.

Meanwhile, RTÉ has reported a second case of a Garda whistleblower who claims they were referred to Tusla as part of a campaign of harassment involving gardaí. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was allegedly told of a child protection referral for the garda whistleblower last October, made by his garda superiors.

Ms Zappone is facing mounting questions about why she did not tell Cabinet colleagues about a Tusla file with false child sex abuse allegations against Sgt McCabe. She said it would have been “inappropriate” to brief colleagues on the issue.

The child and family agency said it was giving Sgt McCabe an apology, after it emerged the file was on its database for two years without his knowledge.

Rocked by the further grievances against Sgt McCabe, the Government said the Tusla blunder would specifically be included in the commission of investigation. The Cabinet will discuss this next week, before a Dáil vote on the terms on Thursday.

However, a series of accusations and questions now face Ms Zappone and Ms Fitzgerald. There are questions about how much the ministers knew and shared about the false allegations after Sgt McCabe met Ms Zappone last month.

Ms Zappone’s spokesman said yesterday that she met Sgt and Mrs McCabe on January 25, after becoming aware of the Tusla file the previous week.

A statement added: “Minister Zappone informed relevant Government colleagues during the course of this period. Minister Zappone was always of the view that Tusla would form part of the investigation by the commission of inquiry.”

But the justice minister, overseeing the terms for the inquiry, said she was only told of the two meeting and not any details on “confidential Tusla records”.

The terms of the inquiry also specifically referred to a complaint of criminal misconduct against Sgt McCabe and whether this allegation was used against him, added a statement.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s spokesman also said he only became aware of the false Tusla accusations on Thursday night, when they featured on an RTE Prime Time programme after earlier being published by the Irish Examiner.

“The minister made the Taoiseach aware she was in contact with Sgt McCabe but no detail was discussed,” he said.

The growing questions, though, concern how Mr Kenny led his Cabinet meeting last week without being informed about the Tusla false sex claims against Sgt McCabe. It is also unclear why Mr Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald would not have asked Ms Zappone what she was meeting Sgt McCabe about, or why.

The opposition has been especially critical of the justice minister’s denials to the Dáil that gardaí had interacted with other agencies in relation to Sgt McCabe.

Ms Fitzgerald said she would have been “criticised” if she had made public the Tusla allegations.

Nonetheless, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald asked whether Ms Fitzgerald had “misled” the Dáil by not mentioning the Tusla file.

The Tánaiste’s office denied this and said that she, too, had only first become aware of the Tusla allegations on Thursday night. Ms Fitzgerald had not been briefed by the children’s minister and had only been told about Sgt McCabe meeting with Ms Zappone on the morning of January 25, said sources.

Ms Fitzgerald’s spokesman said that she was “not closed” to the notion of now including the Tusla allegations in the forthcoming Charleton inquiry.

But several sources insisted last night that Tusla would now be specifically referenced in the inquiry.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked how “alarm bells” had not gone off in Government when Ms Zappone learnt of the Tusla allegations.

His party colleague, TD John McGuinness, went further and said a criminal investigation was now needed. He also said Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan should stand aside while the inquiry is ongoing and he would seek party support for this. Mr McGuinness said the Tusla apology had been delivered to Sgt McCabe’s elderly neighbour, rather than him.

Ms O’Sullivan refused to comment on the Tusla revelations or how gardaí used the agency’s information.


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