CLAIMS OF DIRTY TRICKS

GREEN leader John Gormley has pointedly refused to rule out a Fianna Fáil dirty tricks campaign for causing Trevor Sargent’s resignation as a junior minister.

Tensions between the coalition partners increased last night as Mr Sargent became the second Government casualty in less than a week, following the resignation of Defence Minister Willie O’Dea last Thursday.

Mr Gormley said he found it “very interesting” that a damaging letter written by Mr Sargent two years ago had surfaced just days after the Greens forced the departure of Mr O’Dea.

In the letter, written in June 2008, Mr Sargent urged gardaí to stall a prosecution against a constituent who had got into a row with a neighbour.

The constituent, Dominic McGowan, was subsequently fined €500 for his part in the fight, while the neighbour, Stephen Mulvany, was jailed for four months.

Asked several times if the leaking of the letter could have been a revenge act by Fianna Fáil, Mr Gormley said it was “far too premature” to speculate.

“It is a difficult time and it isn’t always best to make comments when you are in such an emotional state,” he said.

The Greens were “shell shocked” by the resignation and wanted to concentrate on paying tribute to Mr Sargent, he added.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan said the country was witnessing “a series of tit-for-tat political hits that is affecting Government stability”.

Labour TD 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.

But Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the suggestion of a Fianna Fáil dirty tricks campaign was “beneath contempt” and “without foundation”.

He claimed the opposition was spreading innuendo in a bid to destabilise the coalition.

Similarly, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern denied that either he or Fianna Fáil had any part in the leak. He was responding after the opposition claimed he had questions to answer, given his department’s close working relationship with the gardaí.

A Fianna Fáil source said the letter had surfaced now simply because an appeal in relation to the case was before the courts last Friday.

Mr Sargent announced his resignation as junior minister at the Department of Agriculture in a statement to the Dáil shortly before 5pm.

“I accept… that although my actions in contacting An Garda Siochána were not a criminal offence, under section 6 of the Prosecutions of Offences Act 1974, such a communication could be deemed not lawful.”

He received widespread praise for the manner of his departure, with the opposition saying Mr Sargent had acted honourably by stepping down without a fight.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy is expected to receive a report into the affair within a week.

But senior Garda sources said it was unlikely any action would arise, with one stating that Mr Sargent’s behaviour had been “stupid” rather than sinister.


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