Minister’s healthy lack of curiosity

She is either the least curious justice minister in the history of the post or else she is smart enough to know when not to ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer.

Either way, Frances Fitzgerald’s claim that she cannot remember if she read an email sent to the Department of Justice in 2015 raising concerns about the garda tactics during the questioning of Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Tribunal is simply not credible.

Forget whether she was aware or not in advance of the Garda legal team’s intention to go after Sgt McCabe, it is beyond belief that she would not read an email regarding legal concerns being raised by Sgt McCabe’s legal team.

Or maybe she didn’t want to read it.

Remember, at this time — 2015 — McCabe was the most high-profile whistleblower in the history of the force.

On the back of McCabe’s allegation, the Government set up to O’Higgins Commission to further explore his claims.

So when his legal team raised concerns with Ms Fitzgerald’s department, you would think that that would have set off a few alarm bells. You would think that Ms Fitzgerald would not only want to know about it, but would to know everything about.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s News at One yesterday, the Tánaiste said the email (the one she can’t remember reading) related to “a serious criminal charge” against Sgt McCabe “which had not been properly investigated” and came from a “Department of Justice official” after a conversation with the attorney general’s office.

The correspondence would understandably be something likely to stick in someone’s mind, particularly considering it related to a person in Sgt McCabe who — then as well as now — was the biggest thorn in the side of the gardaí.

It would undoubtedly have garnered further attention from most people due to the fact that the controversies surrounding Sgt McCabe have led to the resignation of ex-justice minister Alan Shatter and the retirement of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

However, until last Thursday, when her officials miraculously found it after questions were publicly raised about the official timeline of events, it appears to have completely slipped her mind.

Even worse, when asked about the issue yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald said the email concluded that she had no role to play in the matter and — as such — she did not ask any further questions about what it specifically involved.

This is the not the first time the Tánaiste’s approach to such matters has been questioned.

In her time as justice minister, Ms Fitzgerald built up a reputation — justified or not — for not asking too many questions, and seemed to have an uncanny knack of suffering from selective memory and fumbling her timelines.

Last February, she came under mounting pressure to clarify when she became aware of the false allegation of child sex abuse against Sgt McCabe contained in a Tusla file.

At the time, the Tánaiste claimed she only became aware of the details after watching Prime Time on a Thursday night. However, Fianna Fáil challenged that version of events, stating they had informed Ms Fitzgerald the day before at a meeting.

The Tusla case is not a one-off, and have echoes of what has happened surrounding the latest McCabe case revelations.

On Sunday, November 12, Ms Fitzgerald refused to say if she had been aware in advance of the plan to attack the character of Sgt McCabe when she was minister for justice.

Asked by Newstalk radio if she had been aware of the plan to attack Sgt McCabe’s character, she said it was a matter for the tribunal, before side-stepping and attempting a fudge, saying:

“Look, if I start answering questions like that at this point, I’m effectively cutting across the work of the commission, and that’s why that commission was set up and we’ve an excellent judge, Charleton, examining that.”

In the Dail the following week, Mr Varadkar said Ms Fitzgerald only became aware of the strategy to go after Sgt McCabe when it came into the public domain following revelations in this newspaper in May 2016, and stressed that she had “no hand, act, or part” in the matter.

Her role in the discrediting strategy may be non-existent, but unfortunately her interest in the issue when it was first raised with her appears to be just as lacking.

Instead of acting to tackle the issue when she was first made aware of it in May 2015, or at least seeking answers on what exactly happened and then confirming this when asked last week, Ms Fitzgerald in effect did nothing.

That inaction, and the failure to clarify when she was first told of the case, has caused a fresh scandal for the coalition, and could ultimately be one of its key member’s final undoing.


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