Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan and Fine Gael Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in the Dáil last night
In the Dáil.
There was a three-hour session entitled ‘Clarification of Statements made by the Taoiseach and Ministers’ in the wake of reports about the false sex abuse allegation against Sgt Maurice McCabe.
So, what was clarified?
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan and the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had this exchange at the very beginning.
Jim O’Callaghan: “Last Wednesday evening I met the Tánaiste in a quiet area of this House to tell her that I wanted the terms of reference of the proposed commission of investigation extended.”
“I told her that I had become aware, from speaking to my party leader Deputy Micheál Martin, who had spoken to Sergeant McCabe, that Sergeant McCabe had informed him that there would be a “Prime Time” programme broadcast on Thursday evening which would contain a story about a Tusla file that contained a false allegation of sexual abuse against Sergeant McCabe.”
“I told the Tánaiste that paragraph B of the terms of reference needed to be extended to cover that. The Tánaiste agrees that I asked her to extend the terms of reference. She also agrees that I asked her to extend the terms of reference because of a forthcoming “Prime Time” programme.”
“However, she denies that I told her about any Tusla file contained in that programme. If she is correct, why did she agree to consider my amendments, as she did, without asking me what the “Prime Time” programme was about?”
Frances Fitzgerald: “I got a phone call from Deputy O’Callaghan at about 6.30pm last Wednesday. He asked me if I would meet him and I left the parliamentary party meeting and went to meet him. We had a discussion for about 12 minutes. Deputy O’Callaghan informed me that there was a “Prime Time” programme the next evening. He used the word “documentary” in relation to Maurice McCabe and the allegations.”
“He said the programme would cover the smear campaign allegations that had been made against Sergeant McCabe and he said to me that I needed to look at the terms of reference because if they did not cover what emerged on the “Prime Time” programme that would not be a good place to be in and it would leave “egg on our face” in terms of the Dáil and the work we are doing.”
“He said to me that he wanted to make sure that the allegation of a smear campaign against Sergeant McCabe was covered and whether it had been carried out by the Garda Commissioner and the previous Garda Commissioner. I said to him that they were already covered in the terms of reference and the vast majority of our conversation was about the detail of the amendments and how they needed to be changed because the Deputy was concerned that the reference in relation to Superintendent Taylor was too restrictive and would mean that there was not a proper examination of the allegations.”
“For that reason, I agreed to consider how we would extend the terms of reference to make it absolutely clear that this could be covered. He also asked that Ministers would be included and I said there was no reason not to include them. I went away to do some work on the changes to the terms of reference.”
“At no time did Deputy O’Callaghan mention Tusla, and if he had, or if he had said to me he wanted a particular reference in that regard I would have included it. It would have been to my advantage to include it if I had been told about it, and if he had made it clear to me that Tusla should be included because “Prime Time” was covering it, I would have included it.”
“It would have been totally to my advantage to come back to the Dáil and insert Tusla. Deputy O’Callaghan made no mention the next day about Tusla when he made his speech.”
O’Callaghan: “I disagree with the Tánaiste. I referred to Tusla in our conversation. What the Tánaiste has said in her statement is that she was prepared to seek the amendment of important terms of reference based upon a forthcoming television programme I was telling her about.”
“At no stage is she saying that I indicated to her what the programme was about and at no stage did she ask. Is it credible that a Minister for Justice would agree to amend terms of reference of an important commission of investigation based on upon a television programme and not ask what the programme was about?”
Fitzgerald: “Deputy O’Callaghan made an extremely strong case that he felt the way the terms of reference were formulated as the judge presented them – because they were the judge’s words – regarding the allegation of a smear campaign in Superintendent Taylor’s protected disclosure was too narrow.”
“The Deputy spent most of the time talking to me about how it circumscribed the investigation too much and ought to be broader. He made his case entirely on the fact that the terms of reference were too narrow, not on the “Prime Time” programme. He made his case on the basis that the way the judge had written them made them too circumscribed. I accepted in full the Deputy’s bona fides on it.”
“He wanted the terms of reference changed so that there was no doubt whatsoever that all of those allegations could be investigated and I responded on that basis. What was in or not in the programme was not the central point. It was that the Deputy wanted clarity in respect of the allegations and that they would be fully investigated and would not be circumscribed by reference to Superintendent Taylor. That was the main point of the discussion.”
O’Callaghan: “The Tánaiste is correct in stating that most of our discussion was about paragraph (b) and I emphasised to her that it was too limited in terms of how it referred to Superintendent Taylor’s communications with the media and that it needed to be broader. However, I commenced the conversation with her by telling about the forthcoming programme which was in respect of a Tusla file. My final question for her is this. After her discussion with me, who did she contact and what did she say to them?”
Fitzgerald: “The first point I would make to Deputy O’Callaghan is that if he was so concerned about Tusla being included in the terms of reference, why did he not raise it himself? Why did he not raise it in his speech? I came in here last Thursday and asked for statements so I could take on board the point of view of everybody here. I was completely flexible in terms of what I wanted to include in terms of investigating it and getting at the truth.”
“After Deputy O’Callaghan spoke to me, I contacted the Attorney General, asked her about changing the terms of reference, told her what Deputy O’Callaghan’s formulation was and asked her whether it was legally sound and whether it was the way we should proceed.”
“I had a further discussion with Deputy O’Callaghan about how it should be changed. Deputy O’Callaghan reiterated the points made here the next day but he never mentioned Tusla. Other people mentioned different things they wanted included. Deputy O’Callaghan did not mention Tusla. I had a conversation with him primarily about making sure that the terms of reference included Government Ministers, that they included great clarity and that the commission would investigate the allegations fully.”
O’Callaghan: “Were any of the Tánaiste’s officials or Government officials aware of the Tusla allegation prior to the programme being broadcast on Thursday evening?”
Fitzgerald: “I was not aware of what was in the Tusla file prior to the programme being broadcast and neither were my officials. Nobody had brought it to my attention.”
Transcript via Oireachtas.ie