Frances Fitzgerald resigns 'to spare unnecessary election'

Frances Fitzgerald has said she resigned over her handling of a whistleblower scandal to avoid an "unwelcome and potentially destabilising" snap election.

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

Independent TD Mick Wallace has wondered aloud after the events of recent days: “Is anything going to change in here?”

He said: “There’s no appetite to protect whistleblowers in this country.”

Saying he presumed there would be an election before Easter, he wondered (addressing Leo Varadkar) whether the manner of doing business would change in the coming months.

Mr Varadkar said it was not difficult to identify some of the obvious problems that exist in the country, but putting solutions in place was another matter.

Pressure will now mount on current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan over how parliamentary questions about the entire whistleblower affair were handled over the last month.

In an attempt to stave off another crisis, the Taoiseach said Mr Flanagan will apologise in the Dáil over how answers were delivered.

"I'm certainly not in any way happy how the last couple of weeks have played out," Mr Varadkar said.

Update 2.45pm: Richard Boyd Barrett says the legitimacy of the Government has been 'shredded'

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett has said the Taoiseach’s and this Government’s legitimacy is “shredded” by the events of recent days.

Leo Varadkar said he was the one who ordered to trawl of documents in the Department of Justice that turned up the relevant emails, and he was the one who made them public.

Update 2.25pm: Mary Lou McDonald: 'There are now serious questions over your judgement, Taoiseach'

Mary Lou McDonald says that this was the first test of Leo Varadkar's leadership as Taoiseach and he has failed in the most spectacular fashion.

"There are now serious questions over your judgement, Taoiseach.

"It is clear your handling of this issue turned a scandal into a political crisis and political crisis into an absolute shambles of governance.

"You repeatedly misled the Dail, and supported a Minister who clearly failed in her duties.

"You stood by those who turned a blind eye to the smearing of Sgt McCabe when you should have held them to account."

The Taoiseach has lashed out at Sinn Féin in reponse, saying it is not an "honourable" party.

"For the Sinn Féin party this was never about fair play, it was about scoring points. That is not the way honourable parties should behave," he said.

Update 2.20pm: Confidence and supply agreement will continue, according to Martin

Mr Martin said the confidence and supply agreement that underpins the Government would continue now that Frances Fitzgerald has resigned, and that Fianna Fáil's and Fine Gael's stances on Brexit "are aligned"

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou MacDonald has said Frances Fitzgerald "has finally done the honourable thing, and resigned".

She accused the Taoiseach of "playing a game of bluff" in recent days and said both he and Ms Fitzgerald had misled the Dáil.

"You put the interests of Fine Gael above all else," she said, addressing Mr Varadkar across the Dáil chamber.

Update 2.15pm: Micheál Martin says Tánaiste was right to resign

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said the events leading up to today's resignation by Frances Fitzgerald show failures in how the Government answers to the Dáil.

He referred in particular to the answers received by opposition deputies, and particularly Labour's Alan Kelly, when questions were raised with the Department of Justice as to correspondence concerning Maurice McCabe.

He said the Tánaiste was right to resign.

"Deputy Fitzgerald is a well-liked member of this House and has many achievements as a minister to her credit. I believe, however, that she took the right decision today given recent revelations and the best interests of the country," he said.

"No one in this house takes any pleasure from Deputy Fitzgerald's resignation as Tánaiste and Minister. Rather, everyone has to learn lessons," he added.

Leo Varadkar confirmed the current Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, would shortly be making a statement to the Dáil on the issue.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reading a statement in the Dáil. Photo: Dail/PA Wire

Varadkar paid tribute to Fitzgerald in Dáil statement

In a statement to the Dáil, Mr Varadkar paid tribute to Mrs Fitzgerald.

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

He 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 by the Disclosures Tribunal.

Mr Varadkar said Mrs Fitzgerald was resigning rather than leave the country to face an election and crucial Brexit negotiations without a functioning government.

The Taoiseach said he believed that if questions about the treatment of Sgt McCabe had been fully answered over the course of the last week or 10 days then Mrs Fitzgerald may not have been forced to resign.

"She always supported whistleblowers and enshrined a code of ethics in An Garda Síochána 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."

The Taoiseach repeated his insistence that Mrs Fitzgerald had no hand or part in the legal strategy employed against Sgt McCabe by lawyers for the former Garda commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan.

"I hope calm, measured reading of the evidence will show that the Tánaiste 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 described Mrs Fitzgerald as a champion of women's rights and equal rights and a pioneer in supporting children and fighting against all forms of inequality and injustice.

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

All questions previously asked in relation to the Sgt McCabe affair will be reviewed.

"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."

Taoiseach’s Statement on the Resignation of the Tánaiste

This morning, Frances Fitzgerald came to me to offer her resignation as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. She is doing so to avoid an unnecessary and early General Election that could have left the country without a functioning government and Oireachtas for several months at a crucial time for Ireland.

Over the next few weeks and months, the government will need to focus on the Brexit negotiations, both phase one and phase two. We have a Finance Bill and Appropriations Bill to enact. Legislation to pass for public sector pay restoration and pension and social welfare increases. We also have the important work of the committee on the 8th amendment to complete paving the way for a referendum next year. All of these would fall in the event of a general election.

The work of the government and the parliament must not be interrupted during this important period. So, it is with deep regret that I have accepted her resignation.

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. She established the Department of Children and Tusla, changed the constitution twice to enshrine in it children’s rights and the right to marriage equality. She was one of the most reforming Ministers for Justice we have ever had setting up the Independent Policing Authority chaired by Josephine Feehily, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority and bringing in a raft of reforming legislation including the Sexual Offences Act. She always supported whistle-blowers, and enshrined a code of ethics in An Garda Síochána to protect them.

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.

While all of the facts still remain unclear, there are a few things that we do know. Frances had no hand act or part in the former Commissioner’s legal strategy, did not devise or guide it in any way. She was advised by her own officials that she had no function in the matter. The Attorney General has since confirmed this advice and further advised that she would have been acting improperly and inappropriately if she had sought to interfere with the work of the O’Higgins Commission.

We know from the e-mails, that Frances Fitzgerald had no knowledge of it until the Commission’s hearing were already underway and that her knowledge of the detail was limited.

I hope calm, measured reading of the evidence will show that the Tánaiste acted appropriately, and I hope the Charleton Tribunal will establish this conclusively in the weeks ahead, and that she will have her good name vindicated. I expect her to continue to play a full role in political and public life including at the highest level.

Throughout her career, the Tánaiste has been a champion of women’s rights, and equal rights, she has been a pioneer when it comes to supporting children, and fighting against all forms of inequality and injustice.

The events of the past few days have exposed major problems once again within a dysfunctional Department of Justice, including the way important emails were not found and therefore not sent on to the Charleton Tribunal during discovery. I am directing that there will be an external inquiry into that to report before Christmas. Systemic problems within the Department were identified in the Toland Report. Minister Fitzgerald began the process of implementing the Report, and this has continued under her successor Charlie Flanagan. These reforms will now be accelerated, and the government is planning radical action to restore public confidence in the Department of Justice.

An independent and change implementation group will be established to:

a) assess progress in implementing the recommendations of the Toland Report;

b) review the culture of the Department, make recommendations for change, particularly in the light of evidence of a continued siloed and secretive culture and a failure to provide accurate information to me and the Oireachtas;

c) examine in particular, the relationship between the Department and the Gardaí, to ensure that the relationship is appropriately structured, is understood in both organisations and operates in such a way as to ensure accountability and better performance;

d) draw on the expertise of the Policing Authority in conducting its work;

The Government will in the coming days provide further details on this. The Minister and Secretary General of the Department for Justice & Equality will ensure that all future PQs are replied to as fully and openly as possible, subject to Dáil Standing Orders and the law. All recent PQs asked by any Deputy relating to Maurice McCabe will be reviewed and it will be ensured that they have been answered as fully and openly as possible. Any additional relevant additional information will be provided to Deputies as quickly 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. 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.

I continue to believe that the Tánaiste acted throughout in a way that was appropriate. But these are matters that will now be investigated and adjudicated upon by a tribunal.

In the meantime, the Government will continue to work for the good of the country. We will focus on the challenge of Brexit, and deal with the many other problems we are facing. We will not be distracted as we strive to do what is in the best interests of all the people.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reading a statement in Dail. Photo: Dail/PA Wire

Update 2.10pm: Varadkar to take over as Minister for Business

Leo Varadkar is temporarily taking over as Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation following the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald.

In reference to the events of recent days, the Taoiseach said: "There was a feeding frenzy that made it impossible for (Fitzgerald) to get a fair hearing."

"I have accepted with regret the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation," he said.

"I believe a calm, measured reading of the evidence will show that Frances Fitzgerald acted appropriately."

Varadkar said he is ordering an acceleration of the implementation of the recommendations in the Toland Report.

"I continue to believe that Frances Fitzgerald acted appropriately throughout. This is now a matter for the Tribunal."

Update 2.07pm: Fitzgerald uses resignation letter to thank Varadkar for his 'courage'

Frances Fitzgerald has controversially used her resignation letter as Tánaiste to thank Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for showing the same "courage" in protecting her as he did three years ago for whistle-blower Maurice McCabe, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

In a 400-word statement released at 12.30pm today, Ms Fitzgerald said she was "stepping down with immediate effect as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation".

After repeatedly refusing to step down or step aside until Monday night's latest Department of Justice e-mail revelations, Ms Fitzgerald said "I believe it is necessary to take this decision to avoid an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election at this historically critical time".

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald arriving at Government Buildings today

However, in a deeply controversial move, she also referred to herself in the same light as whistle-blower Maurice McCabe, saying:

"I would like to thank the Taoiseach for showing the same courage and determination to protect my good name that he displayed three years ago when he stood-up and defended the reputation of Maurice McCabe."

Ms Fitzgerald said that "what I admire most about the Taoiseach is that he has always believed in doing what was right" and claimed Mr Varadkar is never interested in "what was popular or politically expedient".

However, she said she now accepts her refusal to step down "risks destabilising that good work" and that as such she is now stepping down "so that the country can be spared an unnecessary election".

Ms Fitzgerald said she wants to go before the Charleton tribunal as it will "allow me to vindicate my good name, 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 whistle-blowers."

She added that she intends to continue to serve her Dublin Mid-West constituency in the next Dáil, should she be selected by Fine Gael and re-elected by the public.

Update 1pm: Varadkar writes to Micheál Martin to confirm Tánaiste's resignation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has written to Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin confirming Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has offered her resignation from the position, and that it has been accepted, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The letter was sent by Mr Varadkar moments after a phone call between the two party leaders just after midday which was described as "short" by those aware of what was discussed.

Fianna Fáil has yet to receive the letter confirming the resignation.

It is understood Fianna Fáil - whose no confidence motion due this evening will not now take place because Ms Fitzgerald is no longer in position - believes the McCabe emails political controversy is now coming to an end.

While it is unclear whether further revelations will emerge, it is believed Fianna Fáil will not seek further attacks on current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, though Sinn Féin is expected to do so.

It is very likely that further questions will now be raised by other parties about what Mr Varadkar knew, when he knew it, the role (if any) of Mr Flanagan in the affair and the actions of the Department of Justice.

Frances Fitzgerald's full statement on her resignation as Tánaiste and Minister

"Today I made the decision to tender my resignation to the Taoiseach, stepping-down with immediate effect as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. 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.

Throughout my career I have always sought to act with integrity and responsibility, and that is why I have decided on this occasion to put the national interest ahead of my own personal reputation. I have always believed in fairness and equality and these principles have guided my work as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, as Minister for Justice and Equality, and now as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I would like to thank the Taoiseach for showing the same courage and determination to protect my good name that he displayed three years ago when he stood-up and defended the reputation of Maurice 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. 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.

However, 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.

I would like to thank all those who have worked with me over the years and I am so grateful for the incredible support I received from family, friends, supporters, staff, and my constituents in Dublin Mid-West. And I look forward to continuing to serve all the people of Dublin Mid-West.

I have no further comment to make."

Update 12.25pm Frances Fitzgerald resigns

A “stoical” Frances Fitzgerald resigned as Tánaiste “on her own terms” she told Cabinet this morning, writes Daniel McConnell.

It is expected that Simon Coveney is to be named as her replacement as Tánaiste, according to sources in Fine Gael.

A short time ago, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar telephoned the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to inform him of the resignation.

It has emerged that she told her colleagues that she was resigning to prevent the country being forced into a snap general election which she accepted no one wanted.

Sources have told the Irish Examiner that in announcing her resignation, Ms Fitzgerald contained her emotions when informing her colleagues shortly after 11am.

According to some present, Ms Fitzgerald was at pains to make clear she was not pressured into resigning and thanked the Taoiseach and ministerial colleagues for their support in recent days.

She said she did not want to be a distraction when Brexit and other challenges are facing the country.

At Cabinet, Mr Varadkar said he had accepted the resignation of his mentor but said he did not believe it was the "right thing". He said all of the justice issues raised are best dealt with by the Charleton Tribunal.

The Dáil is due to sit at 2pm at which point Ms Fitzgerald may choose to make a statement.

The move is likely to remove the threat of an election before Christmas.

Fianna Fáil sources said they will ease the pressure on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if Ms Fitzgerald stands down.

However, he is facing a major backlash from within his own party for his handling of the controversy in recent days.

Update 12.10pm: Government sources say resignation is highly likely

Frances Fitzgerald is set to resign as Tánaiste after cabinet this afternoon after new Department of Justice files released on Monday night made her position untenable, writes Fiachra O'Cionnaith.

Several Government sources said the move is highly likely to be announced after today's cabinet meeting, which is due to end before the leaders questions debate in the Dáil.

The development means the country is likely to be saved from a Christmas election as Fianna Fáil has previously said her resignation would prevent the need for the snap ballot.

However, it is unclear if Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Fine Gael-led Government will be able to recover from such a damaging blow to both his and its credibility, and if the confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil can be saved.

Despite publicly backing Ms Fitzgerald through the Government press secretary last night, it is understood Mr Varadkar told his Tánaiste to consider her position in a short meeting at Government Buildings after 9pm on Monday.

Ms Fitzgerald's spokesperson was reported to be insistent on Tuesday morning that the Tánaiste's position has not changed.

However, after the Shane Ross-led Independent Alliance called for a meeting with Mr Varadkar before cabinet this morning and raised specific concerns over the latest e-mail release, it is believed Ms Fitzgerald's position has become untenable.

Independent Alliance TDs Shane Ross and Finian McGrath arriving at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Cabinet is due to end before leaders questions at 2pm today, and before tonight's Dáil no confidence motion in Ms Fitzgerald from Fianna Fáil.

The no confidence motion debate is due to take place at the same time as Ms Fitzgerald is expected to attend a Fine Gael election candidate selection convention for the Dublin Mid West constituency.

Update 11.45am: Tánaiste expected to resign

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is expected to announce her resignation from Government ahead of a no confidence motion in the Dáil.

Government sources have indicated she is to tender her resignation shortly.

Fine Gael Seantor Frank Feighan confirmed to Ocean FM that he was told the Tánaiste has resigned.

It is believed she tendered her resignation to the Cabinet this morning will announce it after today's meeting.

The move will prevent a general election from taking place before Christmas.

There was mounting pressure on the Tánaiste to go ahead of a motion of no confidence later this evening.

Update 11.15am: Fitzgerald's position labelled untenable

A source for the Independent Alliance has said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald's position is untenable but that it is a matter for her whether she resigns. The Alliance will not demand that she quits.

The Cabinet is meeting this morning as efforts to avoid a snap general election continue.

A no-confidence motion in the Tánaiste is due to be discussed in the Dáil at 8pm tonight which could topple the Government.

There has been no comment from Leo Varadkar or Frances Fitzgerald as they arrived for this morning's cabinet meeting, one that could be this Government's last.

Update 8.45am: Harris voices support for Tánaiste

Health Minister Simon Harris has voiced his support for Frances Fitzgerald.

Health minister Simon Harris arriving at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Speaking to reporters this morning, Mr Harris said there is no need for the Tánaiste to resign.

He said the issues surrounding the Maurice McCabe controversy should be dealt with by the Disclosures Tribunal, and that an election is unnecessary

"There's certainly not a need for her to resign," he told RTÉ.

"The position of Fine Gael remains the same, the position of the Taoiseach remains the same. We have a structure in place, the Charleton Tribunal, where the Tánaiste can provide all of the information and all of the facts, but most importantly where all of those facts can be adjudicated on.

"The Oireachtas and the Government took a decision to set up a tribunal so that all those facts could be brought out into the full public light, so the issues, very important and legitimate issues Sgt Maurice McCabe has raised, can be addressed in full.

"I believe that the best place to adjudicate on these issues is the tribunal, not on the floor of Dáil Éireann. That's been my view throughout this."

Earlier: Ministers desert Fitzgerald as pressure rises Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s position in Government was last night deemed to be “untenable” by the opposition and many of her own ministerial colleagues as talks to avoid a general election entered the 11th hour, write Daniel McConnell, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Elaine Loughlin, and Juno McEnroe.

Newly released documents show Ms Fitzgerald’s defence of the May 2015 McCabe email scandal is in tatters after it emerged that she received three emails advising her of the legal strategy by the former Garda commissioner against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

None of these emails were sent to the Disclosures Tribunal despite their high significance.

She has repeatedly claimed she did not know anything until May 2016.

Despite the information, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted he still had “full confidence” in Ms Fitzgerald as he held a late-night meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin in a bid to avoid an election. However, his stance has been criticised, given that he knew of the new emails and their significance since “over the weekend” and yet he continued to express confidence in her.

Ms Fitzgerald’s ministerial colleagues, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said the time has come for her to go.

“Arguably that time was the start of last week.” one minister said. “What it also raises is how were these emails not given to the tribunal before now, what was the department at?

“We should have known about these for a long time.”

The minister also suggested it was unlikely Ms Fitzgerald would have been reappointed if the emails had been uncovered when the tribunal was set up.

Another minister last night said he had spoken to his Fine Gael colleagues, who were all “very unhappy”, adding that it is was now felt that she should step down.

He said members were also angry that she had “persisted in defending herself” even after she had received the latest emails on Friday.

New Department of Justice files showed she was fully aware of the email and an “aggressive” Garda approach to Sgt McCabe, and that her officials liaised with Nóirín O’Sullivan on how to avoid answering July 2015 media questions.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner


 

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