Fitzgerald tells a Cabinet meeting she will be “vindicated” by the Disclosures Tribunal led by Justice Peter Charleton, which is examining allegations of the smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sgt. Maurice McCabe.
The Tánaiste tells her colleagues she believes she has done nothing wrong but is resigning to avoid “an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election.” In a statement, she says, “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.”
The Tánaiste says she has always sought to act with integrity and responsibility, and is now seeking to place “the national interest ahead of my own personal reputation.” She adds, “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. It will also allow me to vindicate my good name at the Charleton tribunal, without causing any further distraction to the work of the government. I have always believed in due process and I believe that in the current situation that is becoming increasingly difficult for me. I acted correctly in difficult circumstances and, in fact, did everything that I could to support the search for truth and protect whistleblowers.”
Earlier in the day, Attorney General Séamus Woulfe gives a presentation to the Cabinet insisting it would be “inappropriate and improper” for Fitzgerald to have intervened when she received the emails in 2015.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accepts Fitzgerald’s resignation at the end of the Cabinet meeting and telephones Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to advise him of the development. In a statement in the Dáil, Varadkar says she is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing but the work of Government must not be interrupted. It is my strong view that a good woman is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing. Frances has been an exemplary member of Government and a loyal colleague.”
Varadkar announces that he is launching an external inquiry into how the “dysfunctional” Department of Justice responded to the emails about Sgt. McCabe. He also has to appoint a new Tánaiste and a new Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
Varadkar also announces that Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan is to make a Dáil statement on the controversies surrounding his department. He tells the Dáil that Flanagan will apologise for his department’s failure to answer questions fully in recent weeks and will offer further assurance that questions not answered yet would be answered.
In the evening, Secretary General of the Department of Justice Noel Waters confirms his departure from his position. He is due to resign in February 2018 but confirms he will leave the role immediately. This is a decision he has made on his own, he adds.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael sources say the resignation of Fitzgerald has handed the Fianna Fáil leader a “significant win” and has damaged the Taoiseach. Speaking at his frontbench meeting after the resignation is confirmed, Martin thanks his party for their patience over a difficult few days. He says the focus now needs to be on Brexit and supporting the Government’s stance during the talks scheduled for mid-December.
Fitzgerald had been under intense political pressure in recent days over the handling of the case of Garda whistleblower Sgt McCabe. However, even if the immediate threat of an election has been removed, the crisis has significantly weakened the Government and damaged trust between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which supports the minority Government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement.
Fitzgerald has insisted she was unaware of a legal strategy by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in 2015 to question the integrity and credibility of Sgt. McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, which was examining allegations of Garda malpractice.
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have been seeking the Tánaiste’s resignation, and both table motions of no confidence in her, the first of which is due to have been heard at 8:00 PM that evening.
During the crisis Varadkar stands by Fitzgerald and offers her his full support. However, Fine Gael Teachtaí Dála (TD) and Ministers question Varadkar’s confidence in Fitzgerald in recent days as more details emerge. Fine Gael Ministers react with fury on November 27 when it emerges that Fitzgerald had received three emails on two separate dates notifying her of the legal strategy pursued by O’Sullivan against Sgt. McCabe.
The Department of Justice emails show Fitzgerald was repeatedly told in 2015 about an “aggressive” approach to undermine Sgt. McCabe at the O’Higgins commission. In two separate emails on July 4, 2015, she is advised of media queries about the “aggressive” approach being adopted by former Garda commissioner O’Sullivan and advises how to respond if the media asks her about the matter. It is a senior Department of Justice official who describes the approach as “aggressive.”
The emails reveal that a senior official suggested to Fitzgerald that she should say that it would be “very unfair to Sgt. McCabe” if she was to respond to queries about the commission. This release of emails about the controversy undermines efforts to defuse the row between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over Fitzgerald’s position.
Earlier in the day, Independent Alliance members of Cabinet say they will seek “political accountability” from Fitzgerald. There had been no appetite from within Fine Gael for a general election on the matter, as they fear they will face an intense backlash from voters.
(From: “Frances Fitzgerald resigns in ‘national interest’ to avoid an election” by Sarah Bardon, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, November 28, 2017)