All signs suggest Martin will not support vote of confidence in Fitzgerald

Crisis in government takes more serious turn as SF table motion of no confidence

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin must judge whether he wants to run the risk of pulling down the Government on the issue. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin must judge whether he wants to run the risk of pulling down the Government on the issue. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

As expected, Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, to be taken next week.

Following leaders questions this morning – billed by Mary Lou McDonald as Frances Fitzgerald’s “last chance” to snorts of derision form the Fine Gael benches – Sinn Féin judged that the Tánaiste had not given satisfactory answers to its questions.

In her Dáil responses, Fitzgerald mixed familiar refrains from previous Dáil appearances with a steely indignation. But she knows that the situation is grave, for her and the Government.

Last night’s call by Sinn Féin to postpone a decision on a motion until today kept the party at the centre of events and of political and media attention. Now the focus shifts to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and especially to their leaders.

Today’s events now pitch Irish politics into one of its periodic crises, albeit one that usually occurs within a government, with a smaller party seeking the resignation of one of the larger party’s ministers.

These situations play out in one of two ways. Either the smaller party decides that the issue is not sufficiently grave to play its hand, and that it doesn’t want to risk an election, and therefore backs down – or the larger party realises that the smaller party will not back down and the minister resigns.

What never happens is that the Taoiseach wilfully sacrifices his government to save his minister.

So what will happen now is there will be further contacts between the offices of the Taoiseach and the leader of the opposition. Ultimately, there will be personal contact between the two men. Each will make a judgment about the other’s intent.

Varadkar must judge if Martin is serious about not supporting the Government by abstaining in next week’s vote.

It is a big call for the young Taoiseach. He faced a similar decision on his first week in office when Enda Kenny left him the controversial appointment of Maire Whelan to the Court of Appeal as item one in his in-tray.

Fianna Fáil was strongly opposed to the appointment and indignant about its manner. But Varadkar held firm and the appointment was pushed through. Fianna Fáil sat on its hands.

Micheal Martin also pulled back in February when the controversy about the false accusations of sexual abuse against Maurice McCabe first exploded. He did so despite the impatience of many of his own TDs.

These two decisions by the Fianna Fáil leader make it unlikely that he will repeat the exercise this time.

Indeed, every sign – public and private – that Fianna Fáil and its leader have made in recent days suggests that they will not facilitate a vote of confidence in Frances Fitzgerald.

Martin, for his part, must judge whether he wants to run the risk of pulling down the Government on the issue. Or of an election happening by accident.

Entirely predictable though it was, the crisis in the minority government has just taken a more serious turn. Its continued existence is in serious doubt. Consequently, the pressure on Frances Fitzgerald will be immense.

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