Was Frances Fitzgerald kept in the dark by gardaí or officials?

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald at a Garda passing out parade.

Was the Tánaiste kept in the dark by the gardaí or by her own officials? We await the answer with interest, writes Daniel McConnell.

This is what we have been led to believe.

Lawyers for the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan sought to attack the credibility of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe under cross examination in May 2015.

It is alleged that a call went from senior gardaí to the Department of Justice on or around May 15, 2015, the same time McCabe was being cross-examined.

The charge is that, officials and or the minister for justice of the day, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, were aware of that strategy to discredit McCabe.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week in the Dáil said Ms Fitzgerald had “no hand, act or part” in that strategy. “She found out about it after the fact, but around the time it was in the public domain when everyone else knew about it as well,” he said.

The information came to light in May 2016 when Michael Clifford in this newspaper and Katie Hannon on RTÉ brought the matter into the public domain.

But yesterday, Labour leader Brendan Howlin pressed Mr Varadkar further. He rightly said that if we are to accept that the Tánaiste did not become aware of this until it came into the public domain, we must believe two things.

We are expected to believe either that the Department of Justice and Equality did not receive any contact from Garda management about this issue, even long after the strategy had been dropped, or that the department actually had this information but sat on it for an entire year without informing the Tánaiste about it. “Which is it?” Mr Howlin asked.

Mr Varadkar responded by saying that the department told him it was told about the approach taken by the commissioner’s senior counsel after the cross-examination had taken place. As the department was informed after the fact, it was certainly not in a position to express any reservations about the strategy.

“The Department of Justice and Equality has told me that it was not made aware of it until after the fact but the department is a big space. It is not a person. It is a body with hundreds of staff. Can I put my hand on my heart here and say that there is not one person somewhere who might have been told something by someone... I cannot give the House that answer,” he said.

The question asked by Howlin is key. Was the Tánaiste kept in the dark by the gardaí or by her own officials? We await the answer with interest.

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