Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach's praise for Frances Fitzgerald as she quits deputy role

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has vowed to be a beacon for truth after his deputy resigned to avoid a snap election over her handling of a whistleblower scandal.

Paying tribute to Frances Fitzgerald as a good woman who did not get a full or fair hearing, Mr Varadkar said parliamentary questions on issues related to the affair will be reviewed.

"She always supported whistleblowers and enshrined a code of ethics in An Garda Siochana to protect them," he said.

"In the past few days a drip-drip of information may have made certain things seem greater than they are.

"There was a feeding frenzy, and it became impossible for her to get a fair hearing based on the full facts.

"I hope that will change in the period ahead."

Mrs Fitzgerald became embroiled in a scandal over the handling of Sergeant Maurice McCabe after questions began to be asked over a month ago about who knew what and when about an aggressive strategy being employed by lawyers for the then Garda commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan against the whistleblower.

She initially said she had forgotten an email which notified her of the approach.

Subsequently it emerged she had received at least three emails on the issue in 2015.

She was told not to intervene.

Mrs Fitzgerald initially insisted she had done nothing wrong and that she had no hand, act or part in the strategy.

She was also backed to the hilt by the Taoiseach.

But she resigned with the scandal threatening to bring down the minority Government as the opposition party Fianna Fail insisted it would not row back on its no confidence motion, breaking a key pledge in the confidence and supply deal that has kept Fine Gael in power for the last 18 months.

Her departure salvaged the Government as next month's Brexit negotiations reach make or break point on the question of the Irish border.

But Mrs Fitzgerald walked away adamant about her handling of the affair.

"It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve in Government, but I believe it is necessary to take this decision to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time," she said in a statement.

"I have always believed in fairness and equality and these principles have guided my work."

Many on the opposition benches believe the affair has done long term damage to the minority Government and an election is now only weeks or months away.

Mrs Fitzgerald said she was putting the national interest ahead of her personal reputation.

She also praised the Taoiseach and said he had shown the same courage and determination to protect her as he showed in 2014 when he defended Sgt McCabe.

"What I admire most about the Taoiseach is that he has always believed in doing what was right, not what was popular or politically expedient," she said.

"I will always be grateful for his confidence and support and for giving me the opportunity to serve in a Government that is making a real difference in people's lives at a critical time in our history."

Mrs Fitzgerald said she would be vindicated at the Disclosures Tribunal, which is investigating the treatment of Sgt McCabe and a smear campaign being perpetrated against him in some Garda, media and political circles.

The Taoiseach described Mrs Fitzgerald as an exemplary member of government and colleague and one of the most reforming justice ministers in the history of the state.

He said he believed she would be vindicated and repeated his insistence that she had no hand or part in the legal strategy employed against Sgt McCabe.

"I hope calm, measured reading of the evidence will show that the Tanaiste acted appropriately, and I hope the Charleton (Disclosures) Tribunal will establish this conclusively in the weeks ahead, and that she will have her good name vindicated," he said.

"I expect her to continue to play a full role in political and public life including at the highest level."

The Taoiseach gave a commitment that future parliamentary questions on justice issues will be dealt with as fully and openly as possible.

"These events have reminded us of some of the ways Maurice McCabe was undermined, when he shone a light in some very dark places," he said.

"As Taoiseach I am determined to shine the brightest of lights into the darkest of places, so that we arrive at the truth and have true accountability."

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