Fitzgerald affair brings age-old enmity between parties to surface

Negotiations a bitter reminder that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have history

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  arriving at the funeral mass of former TD Donal Creed in Co Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the funeral mass of former TD Donal Creed in Co Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney

 

When the old rivals fight, it never takes long for the bitterness to surface.

Asked over the weekend if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could strike a deal that allowed both to move on from their current difficulties and the minority Government hobble on for another few months, one Minister had a colourful answer:

“Who would trust a deal now of any sort?” the Minister asked. “If it was signed with Michéal’s blood, Big Jim’s sweat, a tuft of hair from Willie’s ’tache and witnessed by Dev himself through a certified clairvoyant, I’d still have my doubts.”

Of course, Micheál Martin, Jim O’Callaghan and Willie O’Dea could shake off such a statement but the underlying sentiment reflects the distrust between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáilers, in turn, throw their eyes to heaven every time a Fine Gael TD or Minister says they are pursuing a course of action because “it is the right thing to do”.

The traditional tensions have been resurrected since Leo Varadkar assumed the leadership of Fine Gael, as well as the Taoiseach’s office. For a Fianna Fáiler, Varadkar was straight from Fine Gael central casting: aloof, right of centre, and with a natural aversion to Fianna Fáil.

Varadkar and Martin do not have a good relationship and are unlikely to strike one up now. Some in Fine Gael, including the Taoiseach’s strongest supporters, dislike the confidence and supply agreement underpinning the minority Government to such an extent that their preferred option is a full-on, grand coalition. Recent events, they argue, show that the minority Government arrangement, which was effectively Martin’s creation, does not work.

Email threads discovered in search of records

Even those in Fine Gael who did not like Fitzgerald had united against a common enemy in Fianna Fáil

Ironically, the tranche of emails released by the Department of Justice last night could minimise some of the damage of the past few weeks.

They showed that Frances Fitzgerald received three emails advising her of the legal strategy by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan against whistleblower Maurice McCabe, the subject of the entire controversy that has put the State on the brink of a general election.

Even those in Fine Gael who did not like Fitzgerald had united against a common enemy in Fianna Fáil. Their loyalty was due, however, to the fact that Fitzgerald got caught in the middle of two men’s pride. It was not due to a love for the Tánaiste herself.

Aside from the controversy over former attorney general Máire Whelan’s appointment to the Court of Appeal, Martin and Varadkar had not been tested in the white heat of a genuine political crisis.

The latest episode in the long-running controversy involving An Garda Síochána united Fine Gaelers against the old enemy, but, as of last night, their anger was turning towards Fitzgerald for placing them in the position of defending her while yet more damaging records lurked in the background.

Many had gone to war not for her but for their new leader and now they – and more importantly, he – have been damaged.

“I am pissed off now,” said one Minister. “She was losing ground already before this stuff.”

Others who felt that Fitzgerald should have already faced realpolitik hardened that view after the emergence of the new emails.

Fine Gael TDs will still not forgive Martin for tabling a motion of no confidence in Fitzgerald, which they insist breached the confidence and supply deal. It will only fuel old animosities

Fianna Fáil TDs had been readying themselves for a compromise of sorts, too.

Martin was around Leinster House on Monday and was, according to those who spoke to him, in jovial form, confidently predicting there wouldn’t be an election for months.

Perhaps he knew what those in the Fine Gael parliamentary party who went to war with him did not, that more emails were to emerge.

But Fine Gael TDs will still not forgive Martin for tabling a motion of no confidence in Fitzgerald, which they insist breached the confidence and supply deal. It will only fuel old animosities.

The same will apply in Fianna Fáil, who will see Fine Gael “arrogance” in the intransigence over Fitzgerald.

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