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Wednesday 17 October 2018

Election looms as Leo stands by Fitzgerald on FF no confidence move

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald will be backed by the Taoiseach
despite the lack of backing from Fianna Fail
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald will be backed by the Taoiseach despite the lack of backing from Fianna Fail

The country is on the verge of a general election after Fianna Fail last night expressed no confidence in Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

However, it is understood that Leo Varadkar told an emergency meeting of Fine Gael TDs that he is backing Ms Fitzgerald and will not give in to Fianna Fail.

Mr Varadkar told TDs and senators in Leinster House that he will not allow the Tanaiste to be "thrown under the bus" on a trumped up charge.

He said the Government would try to avoid an election and also pointed out that, while Health Minister, Micheal Martin once failed to recall an email, a letter and two conversations relating a nursing home controversy.

The opposition party will table a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald today over her lack of response to an email outlining clashes between legal teams for An Garda Siochana and whistleblower Maurice McCabe in 2015.

Senior government sources said Mr Varadkar is not prepared to back down in the row because the Fianna Fail argument is "based on sand".

Crisis

The Taoiseach is set to cancel a visit to Irish soldiers in Mali and a meeting with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker in the Ivory Coast so that he can deal with the crisis.

"The Government is resolute," said a source close to Mr Varadkar. "Frances Fitzgerald has done nothing wrong. The confidence and supply agreement couldn't be clearer so Fianna Fail need to pull back."

However, Fianna Fail is adamant that Ms Fitzgerald should resign in the national interest to avoid an election.

If the Dail is dissolved in the coming days, it is likely a general election would be called between December 15 and 23.

Mr Varadkar is due in Brussels on December 14 for a pivotal Brexit meeting to decide the future of the Northern Ireland border. If the Government collapses, tax cuts and social welfare hikes announced as part of last month's Budget are unlikely to be passed in time for January.

There were cheers from Fianna Fail TDs in the Dail bar as their justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan appeared on RTE's Six One news to announce: "She should go".

Asked whether his party was prepared for an election, he said if Ms Fitzgerald refused to step aside, then "so be it".

A series of emergency meetings took place in Government Buildings after Mr O'Callaghan's appearance on television during which Mr Varadkar indicated he will fight an election if Fianna Fail does not back down.

"I think we're having an election," said a Cabinet minister.

"Genuinely, there is no question of the Tanaiste being asked to resign.

"The Fianna Fail case is built on sand. We won't allow a political execution to take place."

A spokesperson for the Independent Alliance said it still had confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

The chain of events was sparked by Sinn Fein's decision to place a motion of no confidence in the Tanaiste on Wednesday.

Under the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the Opposition party is expected to abstain on votes of no confidence in ministers.

Fianna Fail refused to be outflanked by Gerry Adams and is in a position to table a similar motion on Tuesday.

The row centres on an email sent in May 2015 which outlined how legal teams for Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe clashed at the inquiry.

Ms Fitzgerald said she does not remember the email and that legally, she could not have intervened.

Kangaroo

Health Minister Simon Harris accused Sinn Fein of trying to turn the Dail into a kangaroo court. He said the email at the centre of the controversy has been handed to the Charleton Tribunal which is probing allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

"I think most citizens respect the fact that when you ask a judge to set up a tribunal, you actually allow the judge get on with his work," Mr Harris said.

Government sources have raised concerns that even if Ms Fitzgerald stands down, attention may turn to current Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

He is under pressure for not alerting the Taoiseach to the email even after Mr Varadkar told the Dail there was no evidence the Department of Justice was aware of attempts to discredit Sgt McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission.

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