Fine Gael 'stands firmly behind Tánaiste and does not want a general election'

The former Justice Minister has been under mounting pressure from opposition parties

Fine Gael 'stands firmly behind Tánaiste and does not want a general election'

The Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

Updated 23.15

Fine Gael says it stands behind the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, and does not want a general election.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party held an emergency meeting tonight, amid speculation we could be on the verge of a general election.

Speaking to RTE News earlier, Fianna Fáil Justice Spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the party could not support Frances Fitzgerald in a Dáil motion, which was put forward by Sinn Féin this lunchtime.

The former Justice Minister has been under mounting pressure to explain her handling of an email detailing a Garda strategy to smear the whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Fianna Fáil's confidence and supply arrangement with the Government prohibits it from voting in favour of any motion of no confidence in the Government or its ministers - leading to fears the Government could collapse if Micheál Martin's party backs Sinn Féin's motion.

Deputy O’Callaghan said Fianna Fáil did not necessarily want to force an election, but would consider putting down its own confidence motion.

In a statement published after tonight's meeting, Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said the members unanimously passed a motion to stand behind the Tánaiste.

He argued: “What we have seen from both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil today is a political stunt, pure and simple. We will not allow the opposition bully us.

“History shows that Fine Gael adheres to due process and has respect for natural justice. Fine Gael stands fully and united behind the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald."

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane says there’s a simple way of resolving the matter, noting that the motion will be taken in the Dáil next week if the Government doesn't act.

He suggested that if the Tánaiste doesn't resign then it "is open to the Taoiseach to sack her".

Amid the controversy, the Taoiseach has called a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party for 10pm tonight.

Minister Fitzgerald took leader's questions this afternoon, with the session dominated by her handling of the Garda whistleblower scandal during her time as the Minister for Justice.

Ahead of the session, Sinn Féin warned that Minister Fitzgerald still has questions to answer regarding the timeline around an email sent to her in May 2015, which contained details of a Garda strategy to discredit whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Following fiery exchanges between Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and the Tánaiste this morning, the party decided to hand in its motion of no confidence.

This afternoon, Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government has full confidence in his Cabinet colleague Frances Fitzgerald as both Tánaiste and Business Minister - as well as her time as Justice Minister.

He argued: "What we have seen today from the Sinn Féin party is a political stunt - and is an attempt to actually usurp the work of the [Disclosures] Tribunal."

Opposition parties

Labour has previously said it would support the motion if it was brought forward.

Should Fianna Fáil decide to break their agreement with the Government, it would trigger a collapse of the government. Fine Gael, however, could yet decide to let the Tánaiste go.

The Sinn Féin motion handed in this morning reads:

“This House, declares that Dáil Éireann has no confidence in the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, and calls on her to resign from the Position of Tánaiste, and from the position of Minister of Business, Enterprise and Innovation forthwith.”

The motion is set to be debated and voted on next Wednesday 29th November.

On Tuesday, Minister Fitzgerald insisted she had no knowledge of any Garda strategy to discredit Sergeant McCabe – despite receiving the 2015 email.

A transcript of the correspondence was publicly released yesterday evening. It notes that the Garda legal team had been instructed to call Sergeant McCabe’s motives into question by highlighting a serious criminal allegation that had previously been made against him.

Sergeant McCabe has always denied the allegation and after the file was sent to the DPP, the public prosecutor directed that no prosecution should be brought forward.

Legal Advice

Last night, Minister Fitzgerald told the Seanad she had been given fresh legal advice confirming she was right not to take any action on the email.

"The position to be adopted before the O'Higgins Commission of Investigation was for the Garda Commissioner and her own legal team to decide,” she said.

"In fact, it would have been inappropriate and improper for me to have interfered."

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning however, Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire rejected Minister Fitzgerald’s explanation:

“The email is just Exhibit A,” he said. “The central political point is that the Garda Commissioner undertook an approach that – in spite of all the talk of protecting and supporting whistleblowers – was about quite viciously attacking Maurice McCabe and full political coverage was given to that for well over a year and a half after.”