Tánaiste not going down without a fight

Facing the political gallows, the Tánaiste forcefully argued that she was not part of any conspiracy to undermine Maurice McCabe and had nothing to hide. 

This was her last chance, her death-row plea. And Frances Fitzgerald was clearly not going down without a fight. However, the problem with this controversy is that it has evolved and changed so much in the past 10 days it is very easy to slip up and be tripped up. Yesterday was no different.

It emerged that the Department of Justice had in fact dragged up the 2015 email at the centre of the scandal a full week before the Tánaiste was tipped off. And so, just as the Taoiseach was forced to change the story multiple times in the past week, Ms Fitzgerald also had to alter the series of events.

She told the Dáil: “When I spoke with the department on the Thursday, I did not actually know when it had been discovered in the department. I assumed it was fairly close to when I had been told on the Thursday.”

Health Minister Simon Harris wore a worried expression. Conspicuous by their absence were a number of senior Fine Gael ministers including Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. For the second time in a week the Taoiseach failed to take up a seat beside his second-in-command as she faced a grilling.

The questions came thick and fast from Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan, backed by his colleagues. This had really turned into a bloodsport.

Mr O’Callaghan began: “The Taoiseach stated he only saw it on Monday evening at 11.30pm. Will the Tánaiste tell us when she told the Taoiseach because it appears that the she did not tell him on the Thursday, the Friday, the Saturday or the Sunday and I have a strong suspicion that there were efforts being made to suppress this email?”

In chimed Thomas Byrne: “Did the Taoiseach find out from Katie Hannon like the rest of us?”

Ms Fitzgerald replied through mounting heckles: “Sorry, I did inform the Taoiseach about the email on the Monday.”

There was another intervention from Timmy Dooley: “At 11.30pm on Monday?”

“No,” the Tánaiste protested. At this stage the decibel levels, especially from Bernard Durkan who bellowed from over Ms Fitzgerald’s left shoulder, had risen to levels that forced the ceann comhairle to add his voice.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald continued the prosecution: “The Tánaiste may think that she will weather this storm, that she will ride it out but she will not because the terrible vista of a conspiracy to malign a good man, to smear him as a sex abuser in order to shut him up is not some minor political episode that can be simply brushed away. She failed Maurice McCabe and it is now abundantly clear that it is time for the Tánaiste to go.”

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