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Monday 20 August 2018

Frances falls on her sword as Flanagan is next in firing line over McCabe emails

Frances Fitzgerald arrives at the FG selection convention in Dublin last night. Photo: Arthur Carron
Frances Fitzgerald arrives at the FG selection convention in Dublin last night. Photo: Arthur Carron

A Christmas general election has been avoided after Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald resigned over her handling of the garda whistleblower scandal.

But Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has become the next in the firing line.

In a whirlwind day for the beleaguered Government:

• Ms Fitzgerald announced she was stepping down.

• This was followed by the early retirement of Department of Justice Secretary General Noel Waters, who was due to step down in February.

• Mr Flanagan apologised to Labour TD Alan Kelly for alleging he was engaged in a smear campaign against him.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was stepping down "to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time".

Vindicate

She will remain as a TD but will no longer serve in the Cabinet as Minister for Business.

She vowed to vindicate her good name at the Charleton Tribunal, without causing any further distraction to the work of the Government.

"I decided that my continuation in office risks destabilising that good work, and so I have decided to step-down so that this work may continue and the country can be spared an unnecessary election," she said.

"I acted correctly in difficult circumstances and, in fact, did everything that I could to support the search for truth and protect whistleblowers.".

Paying tribute to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, she thanked him for his support as controversy grew in recent days. Addressing the Dail chamber yesterday Mr Varadkar said he hoped the Charleton Tribunal will allow Ms Fitzgerald's good name to be vindicated.

"It is my strong view that a good woman is leaving office without getting a full or fair hearing," he said.

Her resignation came after a string of emails proved she knew in 2015 about aggressive tactics being pursued by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan's legal team against whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

However, questions have now been raised about the current Justice Minister.

Mr Flanagan said yesterday he was "shocked and, frankly horrified" that documents in the possession of his department had not been handed over to Charleton Tribunal. Mr Flanagan set out his role in the controversy which cost Ms Fitzgerald her job.

At the outset he apologised to Deputy Kelly on two counts.

"First, my intemperate comments in the House on November 15 when I stated that Deputy Kelly was engaged in a smear campaign against me," he said.

"I had been told by some people in my constituency that Deputy Kelly had made very negative comments about me in their presence.

"I always considered Deputy Kelly a good colleague both in parliament and in government and I confess that I was taken aback and offended when these allegations were made to me.

"I fully accept that I reacted badly and I apologise to Deputy Kelly and to the House and withdraw my remarks."

Mr Flanagan also said it wasn't good enough that questions tabled by the Tipperary TD relating to the treatment of Sgt McCabe had not been answered.

Scathing

Meanwhile, Mr Waters decision to step down as General Secretary came after the Taoiseach was scathing about the "dysfunctional" department.

In a letter to colleagues Mr Waters said many of the claims made about the department in the media and in the Dail were "not true".

"The department has been subject to a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days," he said.

Mr Varadkar announced he was ordering an external inquiry into why important emails "were not found and therefore not sent on to the Charleton Tribunal".

Mr Varadkar also said the Government was accelerating reforms already in train and was planning "radical action to restore public confidence in the Department of Justice".

Last night Ms Fitzgerald put her name forward for selection for the next general election at the Fine Gael convention in Dublin mid-west hours after resigning from her position.

She arrived at the convention at Finnstown Castle Hotel, Lucan, with strong backing from her party constituents who admitted they were "very disappointed" with her resignation, insisting that she didn't have to go.

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