Tánaiste under fire: Annoyed Varadkar indicates this is one can he isn’t prepared to carry

You know how it feels when you have to carry the can for someone else’s mistake.

It grates, it hankers and it annoys the hell out of you.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is a straight shooter and he is clearly bad at hiding his true feelings.

While he has tried to say he has full confidence in his beleaguered Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, his body language in the Dáil chamber gave him away yesterday.

From the moment he walked through the doors into the chamber ahead of Leaders’ Questions, you could tell he was not happy.

Chief whip Joe McHugh who was alongside him was hushed as they walked around to their side of the room, as if he was an annoyance to his boss.

Leaders’ was delayed by a few minutes and as minister Shane Ross was finishing up, a frantic Frances Fitzgerald, looking like a lady under pressure, ran into the Dáil to catch the Taoiseach before showtime.

Frances is normally the epitome of class, well turned out and hair in beautiful shape.

She looked like she was up to high do and was seen engaging in a frenetic conversation with Varadkar as they waited to take their seats.

“She’s burning the ear off him and he does not seem to be hearing her”, is what one caustic journalistic colleague said of the exchange.

Sure enough, as it has for over a week now, the maltreatment of garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe and the Tánaiste’s knowledge of that maltreatment dominated the agenda.

Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin began by mentioning the crucial email of May 15, 2015. “That email is damning. The Tánaiste was notified by email in May 2015 of this adversarial legal strategy. That email should have rung alarm bells for the Tánaiste,” he said.

As Martin spoke, Fitzgerald and her successor in the highly dysfunctional Justice Department Charlie Flanagan furiously scribbled notes to aid the boss’ reply.

Again at this point, Varadkar’s mask slipped and he brushed Fitzgerald’s mutterings in his ear aside, and visibly motioned so he could fully hear the question from Martin.

“There is nothing here to hide and there is no one here whom I or the Government is trying to protect. All we are interested in is the truth, and the best way we can get to the truth is to allow the tribunal to do its work,” responded the Taoiseach.

Mary Lou McDonald picked up the baton from Martin and went further, actively questioning the judgement of Fitzgerald and her fitness for office.

Her line of attack was that Fitzgerald did know in advance of the legal strategy.

She said the email at the heart of the controversy was sent on Friday, May 15 2015, a full three days before McCabe took to the stand at the O’Higgins Commission to be cross-examined.

To add to the sense of drama in the chamber, Labour’s Alan Kelly and his leader Brendan Howlin handed documents to McDonald to confirm the point.

“New politics,” came the quips.

“How did the Taoiseach come into the Dáil and misrepresent the truth that the Tánaiste had prior knowledge of the legal strategy prior to Maurice McCabe’s cross-examination? Why did the Taoiseach persist with the “no prior knowledge” defence?

Is that still the Taoiseach’s position? Does he have confidence in the Tánaiste? How can she remain on as Tánaiste?” asked McDonald sharply.

A clearly frustrated Varadkar made clear his displeasure at his own ministers’ failings.

“Yes, I have confidence in the Tánaiste but, no, I am not satisfied with the fact that on a number of occasions, at least two in the past week, I have been given incomplete information from the Department of Justice and Equality.”

Flanagan and Fitzgerald looked visibly stung by the Taoiseach’s comments and such directness from their boss resonated deeply around the chamber.

“My role is to account for the Government to the House and it is not something I like to see happen. On one occasion it was with regard to the ODCE and it happened in part on another occasion when I got additional information after the fact. I am not satisfied with that,” he said. It isn’t easy at the top. Varadkar needs to end this scandal or risk being contaminated by it.


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