Election Crisis: How Frances Fitzgerald went from safe pair of hands to likely election trigger

The Department of Justice is now, in some ways, considered the new ‘Angola’ of Irish politics, writes Juno McEnroe

Political Correspondent

Frances Fitzgerald was seen as a pair of safe hands, a reliable politician who could come into the Department of Justice and sieve through the mess over the garda whistleblower controversy.

Amid a web of dysfunctionality, the resignation of a garda commissioner and a department minister, Ms Fitzgerald took the baton with a role to reform how the St Stephen’s Green offices were run.

As then-taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil on May 8, 2014, when Ms Fitzgerald replaced Alan Shatter as minister, she would bring a “reforming zeal” to her new job: “Restoring confidence and integrity to the Irish justice system now becomes the number one priority for the new minister.”

However, the Department of Justice is now, in some ways, considered the new ‘Angola’ of Irish politics. That negative distinction was previously given to the embattled Department of Health.

The garda whistleblower saga saw the resignation of Mr Shatter as justice minister and the then-Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, while secretary general Brian Purcell was re-assigned.

There have been cover-ups, falsehoods, a smear campaign and open derision of Sgt McCabe, who has highlighted massive wrongdoing in the force.

The current crisis engulfing the Government revolves around what the department and its then minister, Ms Fitzgerald, knew at a crucial time when garda management and the whistleblower were going head-to-head at the O’Higgins inquiry into alleged garda wrongdoing.

Publicly, garda management and Ms Fitzgerald praised Sgt McCabe. Privately, the top echelons of justice were communicating about a strategy to topple Sgt McCabe with a false sex abuse allegation.

A controversial email, which now threatens to hurtle the country into a winter election, has revealed that the garda plan to use this false claim against Sgt McCabe was made known to Ms Fitzgerald.

This was on May 15, 2015, one year after she was appointed to restore “confidence and integrity” to the justice system.

So, what did the then justice minister do with this disturbing piece of information? Nothing.

It has also emerged the department found this email on November 9, but the new Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach were kept in the dark for days

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