As tensions rose inside Government, the Tánaiste faced mounting disbelief yesterday over how ministers handled false sex abuse allegations against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Several opposition TDs questioned the veracity of Ms Fitzgerald’s answers after weekend claims she had misled the Dáil last week over her knowledge about the Tusla false sex abuse allegations.
The latest political crisis surrounding whistleblowers has rocked the minority coalition, just as it moves to agree terms for a full inquiry into an alleged campaign to undermine those gardaí.
Ms Fitzgerald, despite being the minister overseeing the setting-up of the new inquiry, claimed she had been unaware of the Tusla file until learning of it through the media last Thursday.
The Fine Gael minister told RTÉ how Minister for Children Katherine Zappone rang her on January 25 to say she was meeting Sgt McCabe. Sgt McCabe has been central to several inquiries and scandals, some of which resulted in the resignation of a former justice minister and Garda commissioner.
But the justice minister simply said on the phone to her Cabinet colleague: “I said thanks for calling me Katherine and that was it.” The justice minister said that was the only conversation the two had about the McCabe meeting, despite the fact it centred on the Tusla false abuse claim and a formal apology to the garda.
This was also ahead of the Cabinet last week assessing the terms for the new Charleton inquiry.
Ms Fitzgerald added: “Cabinet ministers talk all the time in relation to information or meetings they are having and what happens is, if something is relevant, the person comes back to you.”
The Tánaiste also insisted that by not asking Ms Zappone about the McCabe meeting, she was “respecting the integrity of her meeting with him”.
“There’s no conspiracy theory here of me taking certain actions in order to avoid certain things,” said Ms Fitzgerald. But Independent4Change’s Clare Daly said the answers were “not credible”, as did Labour’s Alan Kelly.
The latter said this was particularly so as the justice minister had previously been made aware of another Garda whistle-blower’s concerns, and problems with Tusla, from 13 letters that were sent to her.
Mr Kelly also suggested Ms Fitzgerald had thrown the minister for children, “under a bus” and Cabinet had “broken down”.
“Minister Fitzgerald knew in October from a second whistleblower that he had concerns regarding how his family were treated by Tusla so when Minister Zappone told her she was meeting the McCabes regarding his concerns, why didn’t she connect the two?” he asked.
Sinn Féin also claimed Ms Fitzgerald misled the Dáil last week on the matter, an allegation strenuously denied by the minister.