President Michael D Higgins will not have to even go on the campaign trail for a second term in office if he refuses the Taoiseach a dissolution of the Dáil, according to a senior Fine Gael politician.
As TDs feel the ire and confusion of their constituents over what the crisis convulsing the country is about, the experienced Fine Gaeler said if the Taoiseach and party leaders do not resolve the controversy, the President will.
Article 13 of the Constitution gives the President “absolute discretion” to refuse a dissolution of the Dáil.
The Fine Gael veteran said: “Michael D wouldn’t even have to canvass a single vote for the [presidential] election if he sent them back. He’d tell them: ‘There’s an alternative here and you’d better find it.’ He’d be seen to be in touch with the people and the politicians aren’t. He would be a hero.”
One thing universally agreed in a ring-around of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs after a weekend in their constituencies is that nobody wants an election.
But newer TDs believe an election is inevitable unless the other side steps back. They all found their constituencies very “Brexit-aware”.
And all agree a so-called snap election is likely to lead to a protracted post-election negotiation even longer than the 10 weeks it took to put this Government together.
One seasoned Fine Gaeler hopes Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will save everyone from a brutal election and stand down.
“Nobody will put pressure on Frances. I can’t see anyone breaking ranks. The organisation doesn’t want to give in to Fianna Fáil either. Herself and her family will have to make that decision.”
What will persuade her? “Public opinion, the morning papers, Joe Duffy.”
One Fianna Fáil TD said an estimated €40 million would be spent on an election “to resolve nothing”. And several Fianna Fáil backbenchers are annoyed that party leader Micheál Martin has not consulted them.
“I’m amazed we’ve had no party meeting, no contact from anyone and yet Fine Gael are all active around this,” said one. “Sinn Féin have decided already Mary Lou will lead the campaign. This is a typical cute-hoor attempt by Fianna Fáil to get ahead and they’ve been caught out, and caught out badly.”
The TD added: “Micheál believed that he could call Leo’s bluff, have Frances Fitzgerald gone, take a head and everyone moves on and yippee! Fianna Fáil are flexing their muscle. What’s at issue here is the stupidity of the political system. And there’s no going back now.”
But Fianna Fáil Dublin spokesman John Lahart said: “There isn’t a political event Micheál hasn’t been through and I trust him 100 per cent to know what he can do.”
Referring to the Tánaiste, Mr Lahart said that when Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan “came across this email he referred it to the Charleton tribunal instantly. He was alive to the import of it instantly. That’s her big mistake. And the same for the six or seven other recipients, who simply weren’t alive to the issue.”
Former Fine Gael minister of state Dara Murphy, who is vice-president of the party’s sister group the European People’s Party and its Brexit co-ordinator, said: “It is absolutely crazy that Fianna Fáil in particular have reverted to narrow political self-interest at this of all times.”
Speaking from Sofia in Bulgaria, which will hold the European Union presidency from January, he said all parties had contributed to a successful national push on Brexit but Fianna Fáil was in danger of ruining it.
“You never hear Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker or Michel Barnier talking about Brexit without mentioning Ireland, and now all of a sudden we have them asking about a political crisis,” said Mr Murphy.
A Fine Gael backbencher said: “We’re ready for an election and personally I don’t think Frances Fitzgerald should resign or be forced to resign.”
Irrespective of whether there is a compromise, the TD believes “this is the beginning of the end. If there’s going to be an election we’d be better having it now rather than in two or three months’ time because the campaign effectively starts this week and it’s a long, drawn-out process.
“But it’s a long time until Tuesday,” he added.
Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on arts Niamh Smyth said: “The only way to rule out an election is for the Tánaiste to stand down. The ball is firmly in their court.”
But she said “it’s abundantly clear there’s more than the Tánaiste”. There was “such an amount of errors in the Department of Justice” but that unnamed officials in the department would never be held to account.
Fine Gael’s Noel Rock was out canvassing on Sunday morning and believes an election is inevitable. “If we don’t have an election in three weeks, we’re going to have one in eight weeks, 10 weeks, with a campaign that will run right across Christmas anyway. The agreement is broken.”
The polls showed “nothing is really moving” but “the nature of snap elections make them unpredictable”.
Fianna Fáil spokeswoman for children Anne Rabbitte said “the substantive issue is lost in all of this” and the general public “haven’t a clue how we got into this spat”.
“There’s only one way to come back from the edge and it is for the Tánaiste to either step aside or step down. Personally I would have gone to the country last March when the Tusla file came out [on allegations against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe].”
Fine Gael’s Joe Carey was equally adamant from their side. “We’re not going to step back from this. Unless Fianna Fáil do the right thing and withdraw their motion of no confidence” they would be responsible for an election being called, he said.
But some, not all, veterans from both parties, who have seen political crises come and go, take a more pragmatic approach.
“People are tuned into Brexit . . . They don’t want an election.”