Rarely has a Cabinet meeting been so anticipated, writes Daniel McConnell
Who knew what, and when?
And just who was telling the truth: Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is well known for having a casual relationship with the truth, the Dáil heard yesterday, or Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone?
Such was the furore around the Maurice McCabe scandal that the Cabinet meeting was delayed by about 90 minutes to allow sidebar meetings to take place.
One of those meetings was the face-to-face showdown between Mr Kenny and the Minister for Keeping the Government Afloat, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
It was clear from that point in that a commission of inquiry would no longer suffice, and that a tribunal of inquiry would be needed to address the concerns of the McCabe family.
Mr Kenny then gathered with his Fine Gael ministers, as per usual, to agree their position on matters to be discussed at the full Cabinet meeting.
It is said to have been hot and heavy amid Mr Kenny’s misleading of the public over his conversations with Ms Zappone.
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald came under fire from their colleagues to “put an end” to the crisis.
Ministers Paschal Donohoe, Simon Coveney, and Leo Varadkar reportedly put pressure on Mr Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald to kill the controversy or risk collapsing the Government.
“We need to contain this today. You have to deal with this or we are going back to the country,” the ministers told Mr Kenny.
Mr Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald, who have been on the back foot for several days, are said to have accepted the need to contain the matter and endeavoured to do so.
When ministers did gather in the Cabinet room within Government Buildings, some joked that the one person missing from the Cabinet room was Micheál Martin.
When they settled in their seats, the meeting began with mini-reports on the rolling controversy from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and fromMs Zappone.
In his contribution, Mr Kenny said that he intended “setting the record straight” with regard to the inconsistencies in his statements about his conversation with Ms Zappone.
The crux of the matter was when exactly he knew about the Tusla file on McCabe.
On radio last Sunday, he said Ms Zappone had made him aware of her meeting with the McCabes and he said he told her to take notes of whatever was said.
Yesterday, she contradicted him by saying she had in fact told him about the allegations of sexual abuse against McCabe before the Cabinet meeting last week.
In the Cabinet room, Mr Kenny made it clear that Ms Zappone’s version of events was the correct one and that he would clear the matter up in the Dáil.
Ms Fitzgerald’s report was by far the longest to the Cabinet, detailing her own handling of the affair, when she knew of the Tusla connection, and how the tribunal of inquiry would work.
Ms Zappone merely recounted her account of what happened, as she had done to the media on Monday, and it is said that she accepted the Taoiseach’s commitment to clarify the record.
Once the statements were concluded, questions came from Independent Alliance ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, who had agreed their lines of attack before the meeting.
Mr McGrath, deeply concerned about any negative impact on Tusla, pressed Ms Zappone as to what exactly went on, and why she did not raise this matter last week when the terms of reference were raised.
Mr Ross, for his part, took on Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Kenny as to their role in the controversy, but was left deeply frustrated by what he heard.
On the way in, Mr Ross and Mr McGrath said they had been in contact with Sgt McCabe and would represent his views at the table.
The pair were frustrated, but were happy to support the setting-up of a tribunal of inquiry. However, this was not the end of the matter.
The other Independent minister at Cabinet, Denis Naughten, is said to have “held his peace” throughout the meeting.
As the clock was nearing 2pm, Mr Kenny was required to break up the Cabinet in a rush in order to make the Dáil to submit to Leaders’ Questions.
In a sign of how chaotic things were yesterday, several ministers have said that the Taoiseach went directly from the Cabinet room to the Dáil chamber.
Although he had flagged his intention to correct the record, he did not inform ministers that he would deliver his mea culpa as he did.
“He went straight into the chamber. He did not tell us what he would say other than to say he would try and clear things up,” said one minister.
Moments later, under significant pressure in the Dáil, Mr Kenny said: “I am guilty here of not giving accurate information. I understood from thinking myself that she had asked me about meeting Sergeant McCabe in the first place.”
“It actually was her office that consulted with my officials, who told me.”
Another day to forget for our beleaguered leader.
READ MORE: Q&A: Commission of inquiry or tribunal
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved