Varadkar: ‘We are trying to find a middle way’ to avoid election
Reaction: Taoiseach and ministers insist they don’t want election
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the funeral of Donal Creed, father of Minister Michael Creed, in St Colman’s Church, Macroom, co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that a general election will achieve nothing as he pledged to stand by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald while still expressing hope in talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
Mr Varadkar said that he believed that Fianna Fáil like Fine Gael did not want a general election and that it was only Sinn Féin who wanted one.
“We don’t have resolution at this stage but I will be meeting with Micheál Martin later this afternoon or evening. I think it’s fair to say neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael want an election - it seems Sinn Féin are the only party that want that.
“So we are trying to find a middle way that allows the Government to continue and continue with the important work we are doing in particular in relation to Brexit and ensuring that we have the necessary legislation in place.”
Speaking in Macroom where he attended the funeral of former Fine Gael Minister Donal Creed - the father of current Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed - Mr Varadkar refused to be drawn on whether he was confident a deal could be done but he did say “we are doing everything we can”.
Asked if there was change of tone in the debate over the weekend and again today when he appeared to shift blame for any general election if the government falls from Fianna Fáil to Sinn Féin, Mr Varadkar insisted that he and Fine Gael would not sacrifice Ms Fitzgerald.
“As I have always said, I have nothing to hide, Fine Gael has nothing to hide so we are not trying to protect anyone - we just want to make sure there is due process and people are treated fairly and certainly I don’t want there to be an election,
“ I don’t think it would change anything or achieve anything particularly at such an important time for the country so we will meet with Micheál Martin this evening and do everything I can to come to a resolution but obviously that must involve due process.
Asked if he was standing by Ms Fitzgerald, Mr Varadkar was unambiguous in his reply, responding “ Yes” before leaving Macroom for Dublin.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was “in crisis” but that does not mean it can’t be repaired.
As the two parties continued talks on Monday in an effort to avoid a general election, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said: “This may be an important test case for the confidence and supply agreement to see how it can be resolved.
“Just because there is a crisis at present in the confidence and supply agreement does not mean it cannot be repaired,” he told the RTÉ’s News at One.
Speaking earlier at an event in Dublin he said there was a recognition “that we don’t need a general election at this time. We have a tribunal out there that is going to investigate these issues. Talks are continuing to see if we can find a way of resolving this. I certainly hope we can find a solution.
“I’m long enough in politics to see how bad political decision-making has screwed up real opportunities for us.
“There’s no doubt that as we face into Brexit, there are real opportunities and challenges for us. And we do need a political climate that can support good decision-making through that process. The talks are continuing and I remain optimistic.”
He said he was “mystified that there would be any expectation that a minister should ignore legal advice and seek to influence the conduct of witnesses before an independent tribunal set up by the Dáil. It surprises me that this should become such a subject of controversy.”
Confidence and supply
Fianna Fáil supports the Fine Gael led coalition government through the so-called “confidence and supply” deal struck after the 2016 general election. Under the deal the party agrees to abstain from key votes in the Dáil, in return for certain policy concessions, thereby allowing the Government to stay in place.
However, the party plans to table a motion of no confidence in Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on Tuesday that would spark a general election. The controversy centres on when Ms Fitzgerald first learned of the Garda legal strategy to attack the credibility of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins commission examining issues in the Garda’s Cavan-Monaghan division.
“This is a time for cool heads. This is a significant time with Brexit negotiations at a delicate stage. There are high stakes in that game,” Mr Bruton added. He called on both sides to seek a middle ground. “We need to give them time and space to see if we can find a resolution.”
Speaking in Dublin this morning, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said Fine Gael is still fully behind Ms Fitzgerald but that other options aside from her resignation are being examined.
“He will also be looking at any options that are open to him to avoid an election that nobody wants,” Mr Donohoe said of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Mr Donohoe again stood fully behind Ms Fitzgerald.
“It is even more apparent now that the country is facing so many challenges and indeed so many opportunities that will need to be dealt with across the month of December and into January,” the Dublin Central TD said.
“For all of those reasons, it is imperative that we do all we can we ensure an election doesn’t happen but Fianna Fáil need to do their bit to.”
“These negotiations and discussions are now moving into their fourth day and the Taoiseach made clear a number of times over the weekend that he approaching these negotiations in good faith.
“We want to see if it is possible to reach a solution that avoids and election taking place. If an election does happen, our party is ready for it. My selection convention is tonight.
“I don’t think any of us can understate how sensitive and how important the negotiations are that are currently under way. They are moving into their fourth day.”
No attempt to hide
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also called for “cool heads” and due process in the discussions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. “There is no attempt here to hide anything or to protect Frances Fitzgerald from the exposure of the truth,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
“We’re in the process of establishing the facts, as part of that process the role of the Minister and the Department will be assessed,” he added.
While he was not privy to the discussion between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin, he said that the core issue of calls for the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald has not been resolved. Any discussion on her political judgment should be made after the Charleton Tribunal reports back to the Government, he urged.
Mr Coveney said he believed Fianna Fáil has genuine concerns and he understood that the talks between the two party leaders had been constructive.
“Fianna Fáil is asking for political accountability and that is reasonable.”
He said he accepted there was poor management by the Department of Justice, but the core issue, he felt, was it fair to ask someone who set up the tribunal to step aside.
“We want to work through those issues, we want due process.”
Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil party leader are due to meet later in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an election that would likely take place in December if called.
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy also called for time and space for discussions to continue. Neither party wants to head into an election, he said. “I would like common sense to prevail in the hope that an early election can be avoided. We have raised very real concerns,” he told RTÉ.
He said that Fianna Fáil had been left with no option when Leo Varadkar did not reply to calls. “The easiest way for the situation to be resolved is for the Tánaiste to admit she did wrong and for her to step aside.”
Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said Ms Fitzgerald should have apologised to Maurice McCabe and his family a week ago and then resigned. “If a Minister in the UK had gone through the same thing they would have resigned,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.
“We would like Frances Fitzgerald to say that she got it wrong and to step back.” He said he was hoping that some form of compromise can be reached.
Politicians have to be pragmatic, he added. The confidence and supply agreement has been damaged, but relations between the parties will have to continue as it was likely that if there was an election there would still be a minority government.
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath was adamant that his party does not want a general election. Their main concern is political accountability, he said.
“We’re in this position because of the catastrophic failure of judgment by the Tánaiste,” he said.
“This issue is extremely serious. We haven’t called for a general election. That’s up to the Taoiseach to decide.
“Political accountability is absolutely necessary.”
He also pointed out that questions about the Tánaiste’s decisions while she was Minister for Justice did not have any relevance to the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
It emerged last week that Ms Fitzgerald had received an email in May 2015 about the Garda legal strategy a year earlier than she and the Taoiseach had earlier stated.