Taoiseach remains hopeful Christmas election can be avoided

Leo Varadkar has again insisted he does not want the Tánaiste to resign

Updated 15:45

The Taoiseach has again insisted he does not want the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to resign her position.

Leo Varadkar is due to speak with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin again today in a bid to break the impasse over the garda whistleblower controversy – and avoid a Christmas election.

Meanwhile, the Fine Gael National Executive Council is holding an emergency meeting to discuss its strategy for a potential vote - in the event the parties fail to reach a compromise.

Speaking outside the meeting, Leo Varadkar said he remains hopeful that a resolution can be found:

“Certainly if there is a way to avoid the Government falling and the Dáil collapsing and an election, I am open to that,” he said.

“But it can’t involve the Tánaiste being forced to resign because that would just be the wrong thing to do.”

Resignation

He admitted however, that he would be forced to accept Minister Fitzgerald's resignation should she take the decision to hand it in:

“If somebody resigns and they vacate their office and go home can you force them to come into work?” he asked.

“But I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about this; there is no subtle message being sent out there to the Tánaiste that she should even consider resigning.

“I won’t be seeking a resignation; I don’t want her to offer it to me.

“As I said yesterday, I don’t think she has done anything wrong.”

Cool Heads

File photo | Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Stephen Donnelly outside Leinster House: Sam Boal / RollingNews

This afternoon, Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Stephen Donnelly told Newstalk that now is a time for cool heads – and called on the Tánaiste to ‘do the right thing:’

“It is not in anybody’s interest to have an election right now,” he said. “It is not in the country’s interest to have an election right now.”

“This is a very specific call. It is directed towards Frances Fitzgerald.”

“The simple fact is the majority of TDs in Dáil Éireann do not have confidence in Frances Fitzgerald.

“Our position is that, based on very, very serious information that came into the public domain in the last ten days; that she should step back.

“Our hope is that she will do so.”

Election preparation

Following the Fine Gael National Executive Council meeting this morning, council chair Gerry O’Connell said there could be a “busy few weeks” on the horizon but insisted the party will be prepared if an election is called:

“We approved the holding of a number of general election conventions, we will have over half of our general election candidates in place by Tuesday of next week,” he said.

“We have to stress, we are not looking for a general election, we don’t want a general election but we have to be prepared.

“We want to win the next general election decisively so our preparations have started from today.”

No confidence

On Friday, Fianna Fáil tabled a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste over her handling of the whistleblower scandal. 

The motion will be debated in the Dáil next 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.

Should the Tánaiste resign or be removed from her position in the meantime, the crisis could be avoided.

However, the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party on Thursday voted unanimously to support her.

Temporary solution

Outside the meeting of the party's executive council this morning, junior minister John Paul Phelan rejected suggestions that the Tánaiste could step aside while the matter is being investigated by the Disclosures Tribunal.

The Tribunal has confirmed it will examine the issue in January.

However, Mr Phelan has said that could take months – and would set a dangerous precedent.

“Should we really have the minister for jobs effectively in the sin bin?” he asked. “Is that a way to run the country?”

“The fundamental underlying questions here are, if the opposition think that they can remove a minister who hasn’t done anything wrong on this issue then who is the next minister?

“It is no way to run a country or run a Government so I think the issue has to be resolved really one way or another.”

It is understood the Tánaiste is not willing to consider standing aside temporarily at this time.

Christmas election

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar insisted he will not be seeking the Tánaiste’s resignation and warned that any potential snap election should be held before Christmas.

He said an election will be unavoidable if the situation cannot be resolved before Tuesday – adding that it would be better to hold any election before Christmas in order to facilitate the ongoing Brexit talks in Europe.

He spoke to RTÉ News on Friday evening, after what he described as a 'good meeting' with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin:

“If we have to go to the polls – and I don’t want to go to the polls – I think it would be better to have it done before Christmas,” he said.

“I have heard some people suggesting that it could be put off until the middle of January or something like that.

“That is not realistic. If we have an election, I can still attend the EU Summit with the full executive and constitutional office and powers of Taoiseach on the 13th and 14th of December.

Opportunity

He insisted there is still an opportunity to avoid an election – noting that Deputy Martin does not want one either.

He claimed the case against Minister Fitzgerald is “very, very flimsy” adding that seeking her resignation would amount to mean "throwing a good woman under the bus for political expediency to save myself and my own Government - and that would be the wrong thing to do."

“I'm not going to be rushing to the Park over the weekend to dissolve the Dáil,” he said.

“If this Government falls, it will be because Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and others combined to vote no confidence in a member of the Government."

He did not say whether he would accept the Tánaiste’s resignation if it was offered to him.

“Detrimental, unwarranted and unnecessary”

Meanwhile, the Independent Alliance - Fine Gael’s partners in Government – met last night to discuss the crisis.

The group has said it has 100% confidence in Minister Fitzgerald – adding that an election now would be “detrimental, unwarranted and unnecessary.”

Sinn Féin on Thursday tabled its own motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste due for debate in the Dáil on Wednesday. However the Fianna Fáil motion is likely to trump that debate if it goes ahead on Tuesday.

The Labour Party has said it is on an election footing – and has previously indicated it would support any motion of no confidence.

Party leader Brendan Howlin said there is still an opportunity to 'reflect on the situation' adding that his party "never had confidence" in the current Government.

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.

Distraction

On Between the Lines with Sarah McInerney this morning, the Irish Examiner's Mick Clifford said the suggestion that she couldn't legally interfere in the proceedings is a distraction:

“There was nothing to stop her,” he said.

“And in fact you could argue there was a duty for her to pick up the phone and ring the Garda Commissioner and say, ‘can you tell me why? Is there a valid for this; what is it based on; just so I can understand it; just so I have political cover even if you want to put it that way; because I have met Maurice McCabe and he seems like an honest man. Can you tell me please what is going on?’”