Talks at 'sensitive stage' as bid to avoid Christmas election continues

Fianna Fáil officials are examining a batch of documents handed over by the Department of Justice

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The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, 25-11-2017. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

9:30 26 Nov 2017 Michael Staines 09:30 Sunday 26 November 2017

Updated 12:25

Talks between the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fail are said to be at a sensitive stage as they continue their bid to avoid a Christmas election.

A Fianna Fáil motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste remains scheduled for debate in the Dáil on Tuesday.

If it is passed, the party will be in breach of the confidence and supply agreement that is propping up the minority-led Fine Gael government – triggering a general election.

Talks between Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin over the weekend have been described as constructive, however Fianna Fáil has continued its call on the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to resign her position over her handling of the garda whistleblower scandal.

Fine Gael however remains firmly behind Minister Fitzgerald, with the Taoiseach continually insisting she has done nothing wrong.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin

This afternoon, Fianna Fail TD John Lahart told Newstalk that he is hopeful that the talks between Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar will be fruitful:

“As long as discussions are going on, they may be fruitful," he said.

"I am grateful for the fact that the Taoiseach, contrary to some of the sound-bites that have been coming out from other ministers, is treating the matter with extreme seriousness and in terms of enabling our access to the details of the trawl of the files that are going on the Department of Justice,” he said.

Documents

Last night, Fianna Fáil officials set about examining a batch of documents handed over by the Department of Justice following crisis talks between the party leaders.

The documents were prepared following a parliamentary question brought forward by Labour's Alan Kelly and reportedly provide an update on records relating to the McCabe controversy at the Department of Justice.

They have not been made public - but are understood to detail a trawl of records ordered by the Taoiseach.

Yesterday evening, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the hand-over was an "extraordinary development," adding that the documents must now be provided to all parties in order to avoid further controversy.

“Political expediency now has entered into what should be the normal business of answering parliamentary questions,” he said.

“Obviously they are germane to the questions that have been posed by members of the Oireachtas - including Alan Kelly, myself and others.

“They haven’t been provided to members of the Oireachtas but they are to be provided to the leader of Fianna Fail, apparently simply to assuage his concerns and take the pressure off the government.

“Now that is an extraordinary state of affairs.”

Political opportunism

Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer has said the current crisis is the result of political opportunism from opposition parties:

“Neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Féin can explain why they want an election over an issue that is being handled by the tribunal,” he said.

“The Tánaiste, as far as I am concerned, has done nothing wrong; her record as minister has shown that she has protected whistleblowers; she has been very much about leading the change in culture within the Department of Justice and within the gardaí.”

“This is opportunism at its worst by the opposition.”

Poll

Meanwhile, a Red C poll in today's Sunday Business Post indicates there would be very little change if a snap election is called.

The poll was conducted last week during the current crisis and shows Fine Gael is down two points on 27% while Fianna Fail is up one to 26%.

The paper's Political Editor, Michael Brennan said the poll is a warning to the main parties that another election will not “bring them anything new:”

“What this poll suggests is they may end up with the same result, after three weeks of campaigning, as they have at the moment,” he said.

“Not only that; perhaps several months to try and negotiate another minority government with trust damaged and vital Brexit talks ongoing.”

“So that is a serious prospect and I think the poll is basically a warning to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that another general election might not bring them anything new.”

Whistleblower crisis

Opposition parties have seized on Frances Fitzgerald’s handling of an email in May 2015 which alluded to a garda strategy to discredit Maurice McCabe.

Minister Fitzgerald has continually insisted she had no knowledge of any alleged strategy until 2016, when it entered the public domain.

She has said does not remember the email, adding that it would have been “inappropriate and improper” for her to have intervened in any case.

While both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remain entrenched in their positions, the leaders reported a "good exchange of views" in the talks so far – and have agreed to keep in contact across the weekend to try and find a way to avoid a snap election.

Commissioner meeting

Meanwhile it has emerged that the Minister Fitzgerald did not discuss the controversial email with the Garda Commissioner - when the pair met a day after she received it. 

A government spokepserson said Frances Fitzgerald and Noirin O’Sullivan met at an official Garda event one day later, but did not discuss the Inquiry at all. 

Reporting from Juliette Gash ...

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