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Sunday 23 September 2018

Varadkar aims to pin election blame on FF if last-ditch talks fail

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar remains determined that Fianna Fail must shoulder the bulk of the blame if a snap election is triggered in the coming days.

After a weekend of talks and contacts aimed at averting the threatened collapse of the minority Fine Gael-led coalition, which is underpinned by Fianna Fail, much now hinges on a meeting between both party leaders in Cork today.

If the last-ditch efforts fail, an election could be called as early as tomorrow or Wednesday. With a 21-day campaign, that would mean polling day on December 20 or 21.

Professional

Both parties have said that the atmosphere around the crisis talks has been "professional."

However, both leaders are sticking to their positions, with Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin insisting that Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald must resign or be voted out of office, taking the Government with her.

Mr Varadkar has strongly defended the Tanaiste, insisting that she has done nothing wrong and must not resign.

The Taoiseach also contacted Ms Fitzgerald on Saturday night and said he was not sending "subtle messages" that she should quit.

Mr Varadkar also added a dramatic warning that any person purporting to be an emissary from him seeking her resignation should be rebuffed by Ms Fitzgerald.

The Tanaiste yesterday contacted several Fine Gael TDs to explain her case and seek their continued support.

Politicians of all parties and groups spent the weekend preparing for an election.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald

However, it became clear that the Taoiseach has ruled out any early move to call that election by going to meet Aras an Uachtarain before a Dail no-confidence debate scheduled for tomorrow.

Mr Varadkar is keen to push his party's view that the election is being forced by Fianna Fail, which has been goaded into this action by Sinn Fein.

The crisis erupted over alleged inaction by the Tanaiste, and then justice minister, Ms Fitzgerald in May 2015, when Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was being challenged by lawyers for the then Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at a judicial inquiry, which was led by Judge Kevin O'Higgins.

It emerged last Monday that Ms Fitzgerald was aware of this challenge a full year before the time she had earlier stated.

However, both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste have insisted that she could not have acted on the matter, as her advice was that she could not intervene in the judicial inquiry proceedings or reveal the content of its private hearings.

For this reason they both insist Ms Fitzgerald has done nothing wrong regarding the incident.

Fianna Fail and the other opposition parties argue that Ms Fitzgerald could have spoken to the Garda Commissioner about the matter.

Trawl

They argue that she "stood idly by" and her private action contrasted with her public utterances of support for Sgt McCabe.

Matters took a turn last week when the text of a May 2015 email was released by the Justice Department.

As part of ongoing efforts to defuse the crisis, Mr Varadkar has also ordered a "trawl" of all further department documents on the issue.

Meanwhile, in a separate move, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, who is heading a full tribunal of inquiry into the Sgt McCabe case, has said he will examine the controversy in early January.

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