Leo Varadkar at the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise with Charlie Flanagan. Photo Denis Byrne.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the record of outgoing Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald in a Dáil statement this afternoon.
Varadkar said, "a good woman is leaving office with a fair hearing," as he addressed the house before the commencement of leader's questions on Tuesday, November 28.
He said he had accepted Fitzgerald's resignation with "regret," going on to say that he will take over her position as Minister for Business, enterprise and Innovation for an interim period.
He reiterated the point made by Frances Fitzgerald in her own statement that she was resigning "to avoid a General Election at a crucial time for Ireland" in the midst of Brexit talks scheduled for December.
He pointed to Phase 1 and 2 of those Brexit talks, the pending Finance Bill, and 8th Amendment referendum legislation as key issues, "which would all fall if there was to be a General Election."
Frances Fitzgerald tendered her resignation as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation as a storm of controversy enveloped her over the handling of information pertaining to an alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe during the O'Higgins Inquiry in 2015.
Leo Varadkar today restated his belief that "she [Fitzgerald] always supported whistleblowers," and in fact brought in measures that would ensure they were continually protected within An Garda Síochana.
He insisted that he believes the Disclosures Tribunal will prove "that she acted appropriately" during the entire Maurice McCabe debacle.
The Taoiseach also stated his intention to establish an external inquiry to find out why important documents and emails from the Department of Justice were not sent to the Charleton Tribunal. He wants that Inquiry to report before Christmas.
On the controversy surrounding Charlie Flanagan failing to answer parliamentary questions from Deputy Alan Kelly, Leo said arrangements were being made for the now Justice Minister Flanagan to make a statement apologising for that failure and the failure of his Department in recent weeks.
Leo insisted that Minister Flanagan was made aware of an "important document" relating to Maurice McCabe in the Department on November 13 and that "he [Flanagan] did the right thing" by sending it directly to the Tribunal.
Leo attested to the fact that it was a full week later when he saw the document and its contents for the first time along with Minister Flanagan.
Mary Lou McDonald stood during leader's questions and asked Varadkar to clarify whether or not Minister Flanagan would also be making a statement as to why he allowed the Taoiseach to mislead the Dáil as to the existence of the email.
As Mary Lou raised this question, the camera in the house turned to Flanagan who was nodding at the time this part of the question was verbalised by the Sinn Féin deputy.
Varadkar did say that he "does not want to be put in that position ever again," referring to the fact that he had to come to the Dáil to correct the record in recent weeks.
He said senior officials and the Department of Justice will be held to account but asked that the Tribunal now be allowed to "do its work in establishing the facts of the matter."
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