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Thursday 27 April 2017

Zappone told Taoiseach of McCabe abuse claims

Minister Katherine Zappone
Minister Katherine Zappone

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was aware that the Tusla file on garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe referenced allegations of sexual abuse, it has emerged.

In the latest twist to the controversy, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone revealed that she briefed Mr Kenny before a Cabinet meeting in which the terms of reference on the proposed Commission of Investigation were discussed.

Covered

"I told him I had met with the McCabes, that we had discussed false allegations of sexual abuse made against Sgt McCabe to Tusla," Ms Zappone told the Dail last night.

"The Taoiseach said that this would be covered by the Commission of Investigation."

The statement called into question the series of events outlined to the Dail by Mr Kenny only moments earlier.

However, the Taoiseach later acknowledged that, while the minister did not divulge details of the sexual abuse, she did mention it to him.

Ministers have agreed to hold a public tribunal into the alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, which is expected to have a deadline of around 12 months.

A special Cabinet meeting will be held today, amid some concern from Independent Alliance members about the controversy.

The Independent TDs have maintained a public silence in recent days, but behind the scenes are extremely frustrated at how the issue has been hand-led by Government colleagues.

Sources confirmed to the Herald that they have major concerns about contradictions in the Taoiseach's version of events.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

They were due to release a statement later last night, but will seek further clarifications today from Mr Kenny before guaranteeing they will back the Government in a confidence motion.

Transport Minister Shane Ross was understood to be particularly vocal on the matter.

During a heated Dail debate last night, Mr Kenny was asked on at least 10 occasions to reveal when he first learned of the false allegations that Sgt McCabe had molested a child.

He repeatedly insisted that he was unaware of the accusations until the Prime Time programme relating to the Tusla file last Thursday night.

However, in one of the more dramatic interventions, Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness said the Taoiseach was aware long before last week.

Mr McGuinness famously met former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in a hotel car park in 2014 when, he says, Mr Callinan told him Sgt McCabe was "not to be trusted and there were serious issue about him".

He told the Dail last night that "everybody in this House knew" about the allegations hanging over Sgt McCabe.

"Efforts were made to derail Maurice McCabe and the story he was telling," he said.

"Everyone knew. The fact of the matter is it was a deliberate attempt to undermine Maurice McCabe."

"Ye did nothing about Maurice McCabe until now when you're put in the spotlight. You can't cover up anyone."

Untrue

In response, Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald questioned why Mr McGuinness did not alert people to his meeting with the former commissioner sooner.

"You have direct information, deputy, which is more than anybody in this House," he said.

However, Mr McGuinness said he had "followed legal advice" and, like Ms Zappone, "didn't want to give legs to something that was totally untrue".

Ms Fitzgerald and Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan also continued to row last night over whether he had warned her during a Dail bar meeting last Wednesday of the Tusla link to the case.

The Tanaiste questioned why "if he was so concerned about Tusla", Mr O'Callaghan did not raise the issue during his Dail contribution on the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation.

Mr O'Callaghan refused to back down, asking: "Is it credible that a Minister for Justice would agree to amend terms of reference of an important Commission of Investigation based upon a television programme and not ask what the programme was about?"

Ms Zappone last night conceded that she may have been "overly cautious" in handling the involvement of child and family agency Tusla's involvement in the Sgt McCabe affair.

Addressing the Dail for the first time following a week of controversy, she said she may be open to the charge of being "politically naive" but wanted to protect the McCabes.

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