UPDATED: Is “the Christmas election” just a ruse to cover for ministerial inaction on McCabe?

No surprise that Sinn Fein has tabled a motion of no confidence and is looking for an election, although the initial enthusiasm seemed tempered by the growing realisation that FF joining them might actually give them one.

The idea of competing with carollers at the door step has added to a cold realisation that something needed to be done if the whole Irish political system was not to disappear down a massive rabbit hole at a crucial moment in the EU negotiations.

First it was Irish voters who were volatile, now it seems Irish political parties are going the same way.

So what brought them to this pass? As it happens, RTE’s Katie Hannon has a pretty detailed step by step account of why this vote of confidence was launch in the first place, and it’s not terribly pretty.

To begin with…

The email was written by Michael Flahive, an assistant secretary in the Department of Justice. He explains in the email that he had taken a call from Richard Barrett, Deputy Secretary General in the Office of the Attorney General.

He wrote that Mr Barrett had told him that the garda commissioner’s legal team had raised a very serious criminal allegation that had been made against Maurice McCabe.

He presumed this was being raised so that the garda commissioner could argue that it was relevant to his motivation. He wrote that counsel for Sgt McCabe had objected and asked if this approach had been authorised by the garda commissioner.

He said Mr Barrett had told him the garda commissioner’s authorisation had been reaffirmed.

Finally he said he and Mr Barrett had agreed that neither of their bosses, the attorney nor the minister, “had a function” in relation to the evidence that a party to a Commission of Investigation may adduce.

Then…

This was no junior official passing on title-tattle. This was one of the most senior figures in the AG’s office who immediately realised that the minister needed to know what had just happened.

The email was sent to the secretary general, the assistant secretary in charge of crime and security, and a senior official in the Policing Section as well as the minister’s private secretary, at three minutes to five – just one hour after counsel for the garda commissioner had reaffirmed his instructions at the commission.

It was forwarded on to the minister and her political advisers just seven minutes later.

While the email correctly revealed that there had been a row at the commission, the account of what the row was about is a garbled version of what had actually taken place.

The explanation for this is that its author did not want to refer to the nature of the criminal complaint for confidentiality reasons but knew that by referring to the fact that it was the case considered by the Independent Review Mechanism, the minister would know what was at play.

In any case, the person who had passed on this information was not cc’d on the email so if something was lost in translation the original source would not have been in a position to correct it.

But this goes to the heart of why this crisis blew up so quickly…

The key questions are this: Why would Richard Barrett be in such a rush to let the minister know about this development if she was powerless to intervene?

Could it be that while he believed that there was little she could do to stop the garda commissioner from introducing any evidence at a private inquiry, that the minister may want to respond to this development politically?

Remember, the information was also passed to the minister’s political advisers. The minister was being told that the garda commissioner was taking issue with the garda whistleblower’s motives.

This was despite the Guerin Report finding him to be a man of integrity who was a dedicated and committed member of An Garda Síochána.

The Taoiseach had apologised to him on the floor of the Dáil. She had met Sgt McCabe and his wife, and publicly stated that she “deeply regretted” what they had been put through at the hands of the State.

Negotiations are ongoing, with leaks and rumours suggesting all manner of things may be on their way, including a proposal on the front page of the Irish Examiner suggesting that Justice might be split like the UK Home Office between Justice and Interior.

That may or may not be part of any deal that emerges in the ongoing talks between Micheal Martin and the Taoiseach, but given the detail uncovered by Hannon that would be something of a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut.

And a Christmas election even more so…

UPDATE: Looks like the answer to the question in the title is yes:

https://mobile.twitter.com/SarahBardon/status/935223159397212162?s=07

Here’s the full disclosure from the Department of Justice.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty