Testing week for Varadkar also sees him forced to correct the record of the Dáil amid ‘confusion’
The Taoiseach has changed his story on the latest Maurice McCabe smear controversy four times in the Dáil over the past week.
In a testing week for the Government, Leo Varadkar has also been forced to correct the record of the Dáil on another issue which also relates to the Department of Justice.
When the Taoiseach first addressed the controversy in the Dáil he said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald had no prior knowledge of the legal strategy and only became aware when it came out in the media.
He said the department was informed after the cross-examination but no record of being informed before the fact had been found.
“She [Ms Fitzgerald] confirmed to me that she had no hand, act or part in forming the former commissioner’s legal strategy, nor did she have any prior knowledge of the legal strategy the former commissioner’s team pursued.
“She found out about it after the fact, but around the time it was in the public domain when everyone else knew about it as well.
“The Department of Justice and Equality is a big place with lots of different people in it but, as things stand, the department has not been able to find any record of being informed before the fact of the legal strategy the commissioner was going to pursue.
“It was told about the approach taken by the commissioner’s senior counsel but that was after the cross-examination had taken place.”
The Taoiseach appeared to backtrack by stating he could not put “my hand on my heart” to say nobody in the Justice Department was informed.
“The Department of Justice and Equality has told me that it was not made aware of it until after the fact but the department is a big space. It is not a person. It is a body with hundreds of staff.
“Can I put my hand on my heart here and say that there is not one person somewhere who might have been told something by someone?
“I cannot give the House that answer but what I have been told is that the department was not made aware of it until after the fact and the Tánaiste did not become aware of it until around the time it entered the public domain.
“I am also 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.”
In a crucial admission, the Taoiseach confirmed the Tánaiste had received an email in May 2015 but claimed this was “after the fact” .
“Subsequent to my reply in this House last week, I received some new information in the form of an email I saw at 11.30pm last night for the first time. This is an email between two officials in the Department of Justice and Equality describing a conversation with a third party, an official in the Office of the Attorney General.
“This email was then forwarded to the minister for information.
“This is an email from two and half years ago between officials.”
Later, during the same Leaders’ Questions debate the Taoiseach appeared to revert back to the original assertion that Ms Fitzgerald had only became aware of the details when they came into the public domain, which was 2016, this was despite the acknowledgement that she received the 2015 email.
“As she has said on the radio just now, she did not recall the email at that time.
“However, what she said to me was substantially true; she only became aware of this set of events when they came into the public knowledge. “
In another embarrassing act, Mr Varadkar had the record of the Dáil changed over an answer he gave around a vacancy at the most senior garda position at the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil on November 7 that the position which has been vacant for over a year, was being filled on a part-time basis. But he corrected this statement and said he had received the initial details from the Department of Justice.
The Taoiseach was again forced to correct the record of the Dáil admitting that the Tánaiste received the email on November 15 — crucially this was three days before cross examination of Sgt McCabe took place, another error he was forced to address.
“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.”
“The Tánaiste, and we know this from the email of May 15, 2015 did not have any knowledge that such a legal strategy was being pursued until that email was sent on May 15.
“That is after opening statements, after the fact, after the hearings were already under way.
“I honestly do not recall specifically mentioning the cross-examination. If it is the case that I specifically referred to the cross-examination and said the Tánaiste did not know until after the cross-examination, then I am happy to correct the record in that regard, if that is what I said.”
“The information I was given by the Department of Justice and Equality was that neither the Department nor the Tánaiste were aware until after the fact.
“That briefing did not specify what “after the fact” meant. We now understand “after the fact” to have meant after the opening statements, after the commission had already started its work and was under way.”
Adding to the complexity of this latest scandal, Mr Varadkar also admitted to “confusion” around the details of the email.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that he had spoken to Sergeant McCabe for about 15 or 20 minutes and he had disputed the contents of the email.
“I read the email out to him. He disputes its contents. He says these criminal allegations concerning sex abuse were not raised that day and not raised at all at the O’Higgins commission. He says the transcripts of the O’Higgins commission will show this.
“This leaves us all a little confused because we do not even know if the contents of the email were accurate.”
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