The curious tale of when Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald became aware of a legal smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe has seen twists, turns and contradictions, but still lacks full clarification.
The controversy hinges on a number of dates, perhaps the most crucial being May 18, 2015. This was the day when legal counsel for An Garda Síochána attempted to taint the credibility of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, when they cross-examined him at the O’Higgins Commission.
Over the course of the past week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has given the Dáil multiple accounts, as facts seeped out.
The latest revelations are certainly a case of ‘the devil is in the detail’ and a number of serious concerns have been raised regarding the date when the Tánaiste was sent an email informing her of the legal tactics taken by An Garda Síochána and, indeed, perceived delays in informing the Taoiseach.
She has stood firm by the line she knew nothing of the “malicious” legal strategy employed until it was made public in 2016 and she simply does not remember an email which leads back to a year previous.
Initially, the Dáil was told Ms Fitzgerald was never sent details; this morphed into her receiving an email, but only after Sgt McCabe was cross-examined; the story has now settled on her receiving details prior to the cross-examination, but after it was first raised at the commission. She was reminded of the existence of this email last Thursday, but last night there were fresh questions around when Department of Justice dug up this email.
The drip drip nature of the truth has done nothing to quell opposition belief that Ms Fitzgerald knew the Gardaí were going to raise entirely unfounded criminal allegations against Sgt McCabe in a bid to discredit him, but failed to act on this.
The issue was first raised in the Dáil on November 14, when the Taoiseach said both the Department of Justice and Ms Fitzgerald had “no prior knowledge” of the legal campaign to smear Sgt McCabe’s name at the O’Higgins Commission.
He said that Ms Fitzgerald “found out around the time it was in the public domain”, which was when it was uncovered by the Irish Examiner in 2016.
Mr Varadkar added that the department did not find any record of being informed before the fact.
A day later, November 15, when the issue was again raised in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said the department had been informed “after cross-examination” in 2015.
However, he maintained the Tánaiste had only become aware “around the time it entered the public domain”.
On Monday night, RTÉ’s Primetime revealed the Tánaiste had in fact been sent an email in May 2015 detailing the legal campaign taken by An Garda Síochána.
The next day Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin rounded on the Government and pressed the Taoiseach on the revelations, claiming he had “misled” the Dáil the previous week.
As late as Tuesday of this week, Mr Varadkar continued to argue that the Tánaiste had learned of the strategy “after it had already happened, at which point, needless to say, it would have been too late for the minister to influence or intervene”.
However, yesterday it was found that the email had been sent to Ms Fitzgerald on May 15, 2015. Crucially, this was three days before the cross-examination of Sgt McCabe on May 18.
Labour TD Alan Kelly, who has sent in questions to the Department of Justice in recent weeks, called on the Taoiseach to again correct the record of the Dáil on this crucial detail.
“How could the former Minister for Justice and the Department of Justice have known about the legal strategy on May 15 after the ‘cross examination’ of Maurice McCabe, given the fact that the ‘cross examination’ didn’t actually happen until May 18?” he asked.
In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar lashed out at the Department of Justice: “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.”
He corrected the Dáil record and claimed “after the fact” referred to “after the hearings were already under way” and not after cross-examination, which is an important shift in the narrative.
He added: “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.”
Last night it also emerged that the Department of Justice uncovered the 2015 email on November 9, a full week before the Tánaiste was reminded of the correspondence. The Taoiseach was not informed of the email until Monday of this week.
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