JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern insisted he and his Fianna Fáil party played no role in plotting the resignation of junior minister Trevor Sargent in retaliation for the Green Party forcing Willie O’Dea out of office last week.
The Opposition said trust between the Government parties has been destroyed by two ministerial resignations in less than a week.
Pressure turned to Minister Ahern, with the Opposition demanding he explain what he knew about letters sent by Mr Sargent to gardaí on behalf of a constituent facing criminal prosecution, and whether he leaked the correspondence to a paper.
Mr Ahern accepted it was “extraordinary” that the letters became public almost two years after they were sent and less than a week after Mr Sargent’s Green Party demanded the resignation of Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea.
But he said he knew nothing about them until he tuned into the radio at lunchtime yesterday and insisted he had no role in tipping off the Evening Herald, which reported the correspondence, making Mr Sargent’s resignation inevitable.
“I have to say I’m really hurt and surprised that anyone would suggest I had any hand, act or part to do with this. Trevor Sargent is a personal friend,” said Minister Ahern.
He said Leinster House was “a terrible place for rumours”, adding: “I can absolutely assure you that I had nothing to do with it and to the best of my knowledge, none of any of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil had anything to do with it.”
Both the Labour Party and Fine Gael paid tribute to Mr Sargent who they said did the “honourable thing” by resigning, but claimed Mr Ahern had more questions to answer.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said: “This is an administration of Justice issue. The Department of Justice, the Minister for Justice are the people who have the answerability and the responsibility to address that.”
He said: “This is the second ministerial resignation to hit this government within the space of five days. Trust between the two parties in Government has clearly been destroyed and this is a government that is holed below the waterline.”
The party’s Justice spokesperson, Pat Rabbitte, said the timing of the leak was “no coincidence” and only someone who believed in the tooth fairy would think there was no link to Mr O’Dea’s resignation.
Fine Gael strongly criticised Mr Ahern for “sniggering and sneering” at the opposition when he defended Mr O’Dea during a Dáil debate of confidence last week and said last night that the Justice Minister “has questions to answer”.
The party said a series of “tit for tat political hits” is “affecting the stability” of the Government.
Justice spokesperson, Charlie Flanagan, said Mr Sargent had told his constituent that he could “go further with the matter”.
He asked: “Did Trevor Sargent speak to someone more senior in the gardaí or within the Government about this matter?”
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