Harris calls for apology from opposition for demanding Fitzgerald's "head on a plate"

The Disclosures tribunal has cleared the former Tánaiste of any wrongdoing

Harris calls for apology from opposition for demanding Fitzgerald's "head on a plate"

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald attends the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, 31-01-2018. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

The Minister for Health has demanded an apology from the leaders of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil for ‘hounding’ Frances Fitzgerald out of office.

The then-Justice Minister resigned her position last November to avoid “an unwelcome and potentially destabilising general election” while Brexit talks were entering a critical phase.

It followed weeks of recriminations in the Dáil with opposition parties insisting her position had become untenable.

She handed in her notice hours before a vote of no confidence that was set to see both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil vote against her – thus bringing down the Government.

In his third interim report for the Disclosures Tribunal yesterday, Mr Justice Peter Charleton cleared her of any wrong-doing.

The Health Minister Simon Harris at a post-Budget briefing in Dublin, 09-10-2018. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

This afternoon, Health Minster Simon Harris said opposition leaders should apologise to her and clear the Dáil record.

"She was not afforded due process - Judge Charleton was very clear on that," he said.

"It might not be a popular thing to say but even Government ministers are entitled to due process.

"She was not afforded that. Micheál Martin decided she wasn't entitled to that.

"He, for political expediency in an effort to mark Sinn Fein, demanded her head on a plate.

"It was disgraceful conduct and he should apologise. He should correct the record of the Dáil - as should Mary Lou McDonald."

Mr Justice Peter Charleton

Before she resigned Deputy Fitzgerald was facing rising criticism over her handling of emails alluding to an "aggressive" strategy the Garda legal strategy was proposing to take against whistleblower Maurice McCabe during the O'Higgins Commission.

She had continually insisted that she only became aware of the alleged strategy when it entered the public domain in 2016.

It emerged however that she had received a number of emails prior to that.

She insisted that as Justice Minister it would have been inappropriate for her to interfere with the O'Higgins proceedings and said she did not recall receiving the emails.

She always insisted that the Disclosures Tribunal would ‘vindicate her good name’ when it made its report.

Disclosures Tribunal report

In his third interim report yesterday, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said he fully accepted Deputy Fitzgerald’s evidence in relation her knowledge of the alleged Garda strategy and her reaction to it.

He accepted her insistence that she did not wish to interfere in the O’Higgins Commission as an “honest appraisal” and concluded that she was right not to attempt to direct the Garda Commissioner as to her strategy.

He also found that Deputy Fitzgerald did not speak to then-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan about the matter directly.

Cabinet return

Deputy Fitzgerald is among the favourites to take over as Minister for Communications following the shock resignation of Denis Naughten yesterday.

Minister Harris said he has "no doubt that Frances Fitzgerald has a major role to play in Irish politics" but noted that a potential return to Cabinet is a "decision for the Taoiseach." 

“As you know, she is a colleague that I am very close to; I consider her a friend and I hope she continues to play a role in politics.

“It is not for me to go through every person who may wish to be in the Cabinet and decide whether the Taoiseach should or shouldn’t appoint them.

“That is his call.”

Lessons

Welcoming the report yesterday, Deputy Fitzgerald said: “On a personal level I am pleased that I have been found to have acted appropriately, used my judgement well, and that my evidence has been accepted as truthful.” 

She noted that there are “many lessons to be drawn from the Report, which requires thorough and careful reading.”