There was a giddy atmosphere around the Dáil.
Word that Christmas would not be cancelled began to filter out from the very leaky walls of Government Buildings and around the halls of Leinster House just after 11.30am.
TDs had already received a frosty reception over the weekend when they went back to their cold constituencies, many getting a drubbing on the doors. The thoughts of four weeks of runny noses, frostbite and canvassing didn’t seem too appealing. The giddiness, like a winter flu, spread into the Dáil chamber, when TDs packed in to hear in person that they could reorder the turkey and put the walking boots away.
Speculation circled over who might take the empty chair of the former Tánaiste. In a last-second dash Pashcal Donohoe leapt up from the front row to fill the void, while Simon Coveney sat stony-faced three seats down.
However, in a show of respect, or maybe indecisiveness, the Taoiseach kept silent on the matter yesterday.
Simon Harris, who had just lost his Dáil mammy, looked bereft and Paul Kehoe — perhaps not knowing what to say to the grieving Health Minister — sat awkwardly beside him.
The whisperings hushed as Leo Varadkar circled the upper level of the chamber — opposition and government eyeballs following him — walked down the stairs, neatly placed his pile of notes in front of him and finally took his position.
The festive mood quickly turned sombre.
“A good woman is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing,” the Taoiseach proclaimed. The Tánaiste was not present to hear the praise.
However, the compliments continued. Ms Fitzgerald, according to the Taoiseach, was an exemplary member of government, a loyal colleague, a supporter of whistleblowers, one of the most reforming ministers for justice we have ever had.
“Throughout her career, the Tánaiste has been a champion of women’s rights and equal rights and has been a pioneer in supporting children, and fighting against all forms of inequality and injustice,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.
“A calm, measured reading of the evidence will show that the Tánaiste acted appropriately and I hope the Charleton Tribunal will establish that conclusively in the weeks ahead and that she will have her good name vindicated. I expect her to continue to play a full role in political and public life, including at the highest level.”
Given her absence, perhaps someone was good enough to email her Mr Varadkar’s glowing comments.
However, while one head, and the head of a good woman at that, had already rolled that morning, the blame game continued and before the end of the day another exit would be hastened, this time in the Department of Justice.
In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar began to point the finger away from his Government, his ministers, and right back onto the department.
“In the past few days a drip-drip of information may have made certain things seem greater than they are,” he said. “There was a feeding frenzy and it became impossible for her to get a fair hearing based on the full facts.
“The events of the past few days have again exposed major problems within a dysfunctional Department of Justice, including the way important emails were not found and therefore not sent on to the Charleton tribunal during discovery.”
Responding to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald, who seemed intent on dragging as much out of the crisis by trying to take out another member of Government, Mr Varadkar said he was forced to order a trawl of emails and documents because he was “not confident or satisfied that the department had released all of the information it had”.
Like a parent chastising his child, he warned: “I never want to be put in that position again.”
While the latest crisis hinged on a series of forgetful events in recent weeks, and some forgotten facts going back to 2015, it seems Mr Varadkar’s comments were not lost on Secretary General of the Department of Justice Noel Waters.
In an email to department staff announcing he would be stepping down with immediate effect, Mr Waters seemed particularly aggrieved by “a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today”.
Later last night, as ‘saved scalp’ Charlie Flanagan faced further questioning in the Dáil, Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry claimed he too had heard further mutterings of discontent around Leinster House.
“What’s happening today is Government putting blame on the shoulders of [the] department. Department putting a share of blame back. Who’s right and who’s wrong?” he asked.
The question lingered.
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