The Government has, for the fifth time, changed its story on the Maurice McCabe email saga, the Irish Examiner can reveal, leaving its position on the scandal in chaos.
Tánaiste and former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was left humiliated after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar vented deep dissatisfaction at misleading the Dáil twice in seven days because of “incomplete” information from the Department of Justice.
The Government’s continued failing to contain the latest McCabe controversy was compounded last night when the Department of Justice conceded it discovered the crucial email about the treatment of Sgt McCabe on November 9 — a full week before Ms Fitzgerald was informed of it.
The email to the Tánaiste in May 2015 discussed a strategy by lawyers for the Garda commissioner to raise an allegation of criminal complaint against Mr McCabe.
The admission came just hours after Mr Varadkar was forced to correct the record of the Dáil, when he conceded Ms Fitzgerald did know of the legal strategy to undermine Sgt McCabe before he was cross-examined at the O’Higgins commission.
Mr Varadkar had previously told the Dáil she only became aware of it after the fact.
It can now be revealed the controversial email discussing a plan to discredit the Garda whistleblower was unearthed by the Department of Justice on November 9 — a week earlier than thought and a full week-and-a-half before the Taoiseach became aware of it.
The new date will raise more questions as to why Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan did not inform the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach.
Mr Flanagan’s spokesman would not say when he found out.
The statement said: “In seeking documentation to reply to a number of parliamentary questions regarding a meeting on 15 May 2015, of which the Department had no prior knowledge, a search was carried out of emails for that date. On 9 November, this search located the email referred to above. A legal view was sought in the context of the Tribunal and a trawl started to identify any other relevant records. The email was subsequently brought to the Tánaiste’s and Minister’s attention.”
The fact the department sat on the email for a week before the Tánaiste was told will fuel further criticism.
The confusion was compounded last night after Ms Fitzgerald told the Seanad that “it was last Thursday”, November 16, that the email was discovered and that the department “had not found that email previously”.
This was after the department had actually confirmed to the Irish Examiner that the email was discovered on November 9.
Fianna Fáil at its weekly Leinster House meeting, held back from seeking Ms Fitzgerald’s resignation, thus risking the collapse of the confidence and supply agreement with the Government.
Party leader Micheál Martin told his TDs to “hold fire” on the future of the Tánaiste and that time was needed to consider Fianna Fáil’s response.
Mysteriously, the issue — the biggest crisis to face the Varadkar administration so far — was not discussed at Fine Gael’s own meeting.
Earlier, Mr Varadkar was forced to correct the Dail a third time in just 24 hours as he faced down opposition questions.
He confirmed Ms Fitzgerald was in fact aware of lawyers’ moves against Sgt McCabe before, rather than after, he was cross-examined at the O’Higgins commission.
In a Dáil debate on the crisis, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said there was now a question of the “judgment, competence, and credibility of the Tánaiste”.
Sinn Féin has given Ms Fitzgerald until today before deciding on whether to pursue a motion of no confidence in her.
After its weekly meeting, a party statement said: “If we are not satisfied with her explanation then we will then look at putting down a motion of no confidence at our private members’ times next week.”
Mr Varadkar has also ordered a full trawl of the Department of Justice for any more documents pertaining to Sgt McCabe and a progress report on improvements at the department.
The changing position of the Government on the email will leave Mr Varadkar and his ministers on shaky ground.
It is also understood that Sgt McCabe wants more questions answered.
Mr Varadkar was also forced to correct the record on comments he made around a filling of a position in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement ODCE.