Templemore College scandal kept from Justice Minister for 16 months

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s failure to inform the Tánaiste of the Templemore College fiasco for 16 months has been described as a “significant oversight” by a Cabinet minister.

Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath’s criticism comes as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is facing a Dáil questioning over the ongoing Garda crisis, the Irish Examiner has learned.

Opposition parties are demanding Ms Fitzgerald attends an emergency Dáil debate on the scandal today.

Mr McGrath, who is minister of state for disabilities, was speaking after it emerged that lawyers for Ms O’Sullivan told her to inform the Tánaiste in July 2015 of the scandal, but Ms Fitzgerald only learnt of the situation in October 2016.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr McGrath said that while he retains confidence in both Ms Fitzgerald and Ms O’Sullivan, he is awaiting the findings of the Public Accounts Committee and Garda Authority investigations into the scandal to fully make up his mind.

Mr McGrath’s comments come as other members of the Independent Alliance have expressed concern at Ms O’Sullivan’s ability to lead the force, but said they will not seek her head.

“Our confidence is at best lukewarm, but we are not prepared to force her sacking or risk collapsing the Government,” one minister told the Irish Examiner. “But to say we are not happy is an understatement.”

Ms Fitzgerald yesterday hit back at opposition criticism of her handling of Garda disputes by calling on them not to put political expediency “ahead of policing”.

She said that she had “no objective evidence” that Ms O’Sullivan had “done anything wrong” and said the two inquiries under way — the Charleton tribunal and the Public Accounts Committee hearings — should be allowed to continue their work.

“Everybody says ‘take politics out of policing’,” said the Tánaiste.

Asked what were the specific wrongdoings of Ms O’Sullivan, she said: “I have no objective evidence that the Garda commissioner has done anything wrong. I’ve no evidence in relation to that.

“Of course, the opposition are going to ramp up the pressure on the commissioner, and, indeed, on me. I would say politics and political expediency aren’t going to sort out the very deep-seated issues in relation to An Garda Síochána.”

In a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Sinn Féin whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that Ms Fitzgerald must be grilled over the latest Garda crisis.

“I believe it is of such seriousness that all business on Tuesday after order of business be set aside to facilitate a frank and honest exchange,” Mr Ó Snodaigh wrote.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl, who did not respond to calls on the issue last night, will decide on the potential plan during a Dáil business committee meeting this morning.

However, while the debate request is likely to be backed by some other opposition parties keen to keep the spotlight on the justice minister, the Government members of the committee are likely to oppose the call.

Despite growing criticism of Ms Fitzgerald’s handling of events, she is also set to avoid a mooted no-confidence motion in her.

Fianna Fáil officials said the confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael means the party must abstain or vote against any no-confidence motion in the Government unless in extreme circumstances.

Similarly, although Sinn Féin’s Mr Ó Snodaigh and justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien last night said they are still considering a motion, sources said that there is little point in tabling one if it is not supported by others.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin also warned Ms Fitzgerald her “position will become increasingly untenable if that leadership [to remove Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan] does not manifest in the coming days”.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday expressed his confidence in both Ms Fitzgerald and Ms O’Sullivan.

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