Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is under fresh pressure to explain why she only learned of the strategy to undermine Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe a year after his cross-examination at a state commission in 2015.
The Dáil witnessed highly charged scenes yesterday during which Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan accused Labour TD Alan Kelly of running a “smear campaign” against him in recent days.
Mr Kelly has been seeking answers to specific questions in relation to what Ms Fitzgerald knew in 2015 when she was justice minister and what was known by her department about the tactics used by lawyers acting for former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when cross-examining Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
During leaders questions, Labour leader Brendan Howlin pressed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as to why it took so long for Ms Fitzgerald to learn of the strategy, despite her department knowing about it.
Mr Howlin asked Mr Varadkar: “If we are to accept that the Tánaiste did not become aware of this until it came into the public domain, we must believe two things.
“This House is expected to believe either that the Department of Justice and Equality did not receive any contact from Garda management about this issue, even long after the strategy had been dropped, or that the department actually had this information but sat on it for an entire year without informing the Tánaiste about it. Which is it?”
In response, Mr Varadkar said: “I am informed by the Department of Justice and Equality that it was told about the approach taken by the commissioner’s senior counsel after the cross-examination had already taken place. As the department was informed after the fact, it was certainly not in a position to express any reservations about the legal strategy.”
Mr Varadkar called on Labour to put up or shut up and deliver evidence to justify their line of questioning.
“At this stage, if the Labour Party has an allegation to make, it should make it clearly here so we can respond to it,” he said.
At this point, Mr Flanagan interjected and demanded to be protected by Ceann Comhairle SeánÓ Fearghail from attacks on his personal credibility.
“Having regard to the fact that the Deputy asking the question made specific reference to me, I ask the Ceann Comhairle for protection in this House. I will not have my good name and my professional reputation traduced by Deputy Kelly inside and outside this House,” he said.
“My point of order is that if there are matters that are germane to the tribunal, that is the place for it. I ask Deputy Kelly to desist from engaging in a smear campaign against me personally and professionally.”
Mr Kelly, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said he “won’t be bullied” by anyone and said Mr Flanagan’s outburst was “outrageous”.
“It is a clear sign of the pressure the Government is under because of the simple questions I am asking,” he said.
Mr Kelly yesterday received answers from Mr Flanagan to a number of his questions about what was known in May 2015 but the minister said the matters sought are now subject to the Disclosures Tribunal and therefore are unanswerable.
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