Belfast Telegraph

Tanaiste faces criticism over role in Garda whistleblower controversy

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has rejected allegations she was privy to a conspiracy aimed at discrediting Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The minister faced a barrage of criticism, including calls to step down, as she answered questions about her handling of the controversy in the Dail.

As the row intensified, Sinn Fein also announced plans to table a motion of no confidence in the Tanaiste to be debated next week.

Ms Fitzgerald told TDs: "I am trying to provide answers.

"I am not trying to hide anything. I was not part of any conspiracy to undermine Sergeant McCabe. Quite the contrary."

On Wednesday, a Government email emerged indicating the Tanaiste was told in 2015 about the tactics being used by Garda lawyers at the O'Higgins inquiry.

The note, written by the assistant secretary of the Department of Justice, alerted Ms Fitzgerald, then justice minister, that "a serious criminal complaint" which had always been denied by Sgt McCabe, was raised at the commission.

The email was sent to a number of people including the Tanaiste.

During leaders' questions Fianna Fail TD Jim O'Callaghan said he had a "strong suspicion" efforts were being made to suppress the email.

But Ms Fitzgerald hit back: "There were no efforts to suppress that email, by me. There were no efforts to suppress it.

"I am speaking for myself. I don't believe there were by other people either.

"There was a process being followed in the department in relation to the email."

During the robust exchanges, Fitzgerald also claimed to have "continuously" acted on behalf of whistleblowers.

She added: "In terms of the email, what I have said is accurate about when I was told about it. That is absolutely accurate.

"To say that I did not act is not correct. I did not interfere with the legal strategy.

"And I am really surprised by some of the suggestions that have been made on the floor of the House by Deputy (Jim) O'Callaghan who says I should have discussed the legal strategy and so on.

"That would have been illegal. It would have been a criminal act for me to try and influence the legal strategy of the Garda Siochana."

Meanwhile, severe criticism was also levied by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

She said: "You are not still giving answers.

"Y ou are sticking to your script and I for one am not taken for a moment by the bluster and the long enunciation of a list of your virtues in office because the fact is when it counted and when it mattered and when this email arrived in your inbox and when you became aware of a malicious strategy to malign this man on the basis of charges that had been dismissed and disproven you failed to act."

Ms Fitzgerald said on Tuesday she had been aware a "serious criminal" complaint was levelled at Sgt McCabe during the O'Higgins inquiry.

She has also insisted that she did not know about a smear campaign against the officer until 2016.

Last year it emerged the legal team appointed by the former Garda commissioner was instructed to question Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility at the O'Higgins Commission, which was set up in February 2015 to examine allegations of Garda malpractice.

The strategy pursued against Sgt McCabe is one of a number of issues being examined by the disclosures tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

In a statement, released after question time, Sinn Fein said the motion of no confidence had been submitted.

The party's justice spokesman Donnchadh O Laoghaire said: "This is on the back of her inability to satisfy queries about her lack of action when she first became aware of the strategy devised by the Garda Commissioner's legal team in an attempt to smear the name of whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

"We believe we have at this stage given the Tanaiste ample opportunity to be fully transparent on all outstanding questions, and it is regrettable that she has not taken it."

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