Government in crisis as whistleblower controversy rages on

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is back at the centre of the botched handling of garda whistleblower scandal as his government's survival hangs on a knife-edge.

Mr Kenny is to meet with Micheál Martin today amid growing fear within Fianna Fáil that a general election cannot be avoided for much longer.

It comes after Children's Minister Katherine Zappone revealed she told the Taoiseach about the bogus Tusla file on Sgt Maurice McCabe before last week's Cabinet meeting.

Ms Zappone has been in the firing line since Friday when it emerged she failed to brief her Cabinet colleagues on the dossier which contained a false allegation that Mr McCabe had molested a child.

However, after flying back from the United States yesterday she firmly dragged the Taoiseach into the frame by revealing she alerted him that she met Mr McCabe to discuss Tusla.

"I did not go into detail of any of the allegations that I was aware of but I did indicate to him that that was the nature of the conversation," she said.

Responding to Ms Zappone's statement, a spokesman for Mr Kenny said the minister was correct not to divulge details of the Tusla report - but failed to address the fact the Taoiseach did not reveal his knowledge of the Tusla link before now.

Ms Zappone also contradicted an assertion made by the Taoiseach during a radio interview on Sunday when Mr Kenny said he told his minister to "make sure that you have a thorough account" of the meeting with Mr McCabe.

She stated that while there was contacts between her officials and Government Buildings prior to her January 25 meeting with Sgt McCabe, she did not speak to the Taoiseach directly.

Government sources last night told the Irish Independent they want to move away from a narrative focused on "who said what when" because "in the greater scheme of things the timing isn't critical".

They argued the best way of determining the truth should be the only issue under debate and the idea of either the Taoiseach or Ms Zappone raising the Tusla issue at Cabinet was "not tenable as Cabinet is a leaky bucket".

After a day of drama, Fianna Fáil TDs are considering whether it is tenable to allow the Government continue in office.

Initially, party bosses said they would abstain on a motion of no confidence because if the Government collapses it would delay the establishment of a commission of investigation into the alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

However, the party is now backing calls for a public inquiry which means the terms of reference for an inquiry currently before the Dáil are likely to become irrelevant.

A senior TD said: "The public don't want an election but the Government's handling of this is beyond what people see as acceptable. If there isn't enough cause for an election here, what is needed for one?"

Another said: "We have a big decision to make. Either way it's a risk, but Fine Gael are not helping us so there is only so much charity we can offer them now."

Micheál Martin will meet with the Taoiseach today to discuss the inquiry process, and government sources say the idea of a public inquiry "will get a fair hearing at Cabinet".

In a sign there is still a willingness to work together, a major row between over a Dáil bar conversation involving Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan appeared to be abating last night.

Ms Fitzgerald vehemently denied claims by her opposition marker that he warned her of a Tusla link to the case before details were aired publicly on Prime Time.

At one stage yesterday Mr O'Callaghan warned the Government could "collapse" unless the rift was mended but last night a spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said: "The engagement between the Tánaiste and Deputy O'Callaghan last Wednesday was constructive throughout and entirely focused on ensuring that a commission of investigation would establish the full truth.

"A difference of opinion has arisen about their discussion about the impending 'Prime Time' programme, particularly as to whether mention was made of a Tusla file.

"The Tánaiste is of the view that each of their positions on this aspect of the discussions are genuinely held, and this discrepancy should not stand in the way of investigating these allegations."

What happens next

9am - Ministers arrive at Government Buildings ahead of Cabinet. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will face their Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues to discuss the scandal.

10am - Cabinet meeting should begin. Children Minister Katherine Zappone is to brief ministerial colleagues on her meeting with the McCabes and her knowledge of the controversy.

1pm - The Independent Alliance is to meet to discuss the outcome of the Cabinet meeting.

2pm - The Taoiseach will take Leaders' Questions.

3.45pm - Minister Zappone is next to face a grilling in the Dáil chamber.