Taoiseach says neither FF or FG want election but Fitzgerald is staying

Varadkar and Martin to resume talks tonight in a bid to avert general election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is seen on Monday at the funeral of former TD Donal Creed in Cork on Monday. Mr Varadkar will resume talks on Monday with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in a bid to avoid a general election. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is seen on Monday at the funeral of former TD Donal Creed in Cork on Monday. Mr Varadkar will resume talks on Monday with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in a bid to avoid a general election. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will meet this afternoon in an attempt to avert a pre-Christmas general election that will likely follow if a motion of no confidence in Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald proceeds as planned on Tuesday.

This morning, Mr Varadkar said while a general election would achieve nothing, was standing by Ms Fitzgerald but hoped talks with Mr Martin could lead to a resolution of the crisis.

“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.”

Mr Varadkar insisted any resolution would not involve Ms Fitzgerald stepping down.

“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”.

Mr Varadkar’s comments have been echoed by his Cabinet colleagues with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe saying the Taoiseach “will also be looking at any options that are open to him to avoid an election that nobody wants”.

“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.

You can also follow developments as they happen on our Government in Crisis liveblog.

Meanwhile, Mr Donohoe will also bring legislation to Cabinet tomorrow to allow the State meet most of its spending commitments next year.

The Minister for Finance was due to bring the Appropriations Bill to Ministerial colleagues in the coming weeks, but accelerated the process due to the threat of a snap general election.

It will mean that payments such as child benefit and pensions, as well as public sector wages, can be paid from next January.

Back to the talks, it is understood the sides have discussed a possible solution which involves Ms Fitzgerald remaining in Government but her role in the controversy being examined in January by the Charleton tribunal, which is investigating the treatment of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Monday called for “cool heads” and said there was “no attempt here to hide anything or to protect Frances Fitzgerald from the exposure of the truth”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme, Mr Coveney said “Fianna Fáil is asking for political accountability and that is reasonable”.

Controversy

The controversy centres on when Ms Fitzgerald first learned of the Garda legal strategy to attack the credibility of Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission examining issues in the Garda’s Cavan-Monaghan division.

But fresh revelations yesterday heightened the political tensions. RTÉ reported that the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan telephoned a senior Department of Justice official in 2015 and spoke about the legal strategy that challenged the Garda whistleblower at the O’Higgins commission.

A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald said the Tánaiste was not aware of the phone conversation between the then Garda commissioner and the senior official.

However, the call makes clear that contact between the department and the gardaí about the approach to Sgt McCabe at the commission was not limited to the single email to Ms Fitzgerald which was unearthed last week and caused the current controversy.

It emerged last week she had received an email about the strategy in May 2015, a year earlier than she and the Taoiseach had stated.

Fianna Fáil has no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald and is demanding she resign while Mr Varadkar insists she has done nothing wrong and she will not be stepping down.

The crisis has prompted frantic preparations for a snap election in all political parties: Fine Gael will have completed 18 candidate election conventions by Tuesday.

It comes at a difficult time politically with a crucial Brexit summit to be held on December 15th and key pieces of legislation including the Social Welfare Bill, Fempi legislation and the Finance Bill.

Both parties are hopeful a resolution can be identified and a Christmas election avoided as there is little appetite among backbenchers for an election.

Solution

If a solution is not found today, the Dáil will discuss a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste tomorrow night.

It is likely the Taoiseach will then seek permission from President Michael D Higgins to dissolve the Dáil and call a general election with voting likely to be held on December 19th or 20th.

Meanwhile, a trawl of documents in the Department of Justice, order by the Taoiseach is expected to conclude today.

The Irish Times understands the trawl for documents in the department has also unearthed another email to the Tánaiste’s office, notifying her of a press query in 2015, which references Sgt McCabe’s evidence at the O’Higgins commission.

The talks today are likely to focus on the elements of a potential deal which have been discussed by the two leaders.

This could involve amending the terms of reference of the Charleton tribunal to allow it investigate specifically the contacts between the gardaí and the office of the Tánaiste and former minister for justice Ms Fitzgerald.

If combined with a statement in the Dáil from Ms Fitzgerald which acknowledged concerns about her management of the issues, Fianna Fáil could consider stepping back from its demand that Ms Fitzgerald resign this week and withdraw its motion of no confidence in her. However, this would require both parties to move from their current positions.

In his only public interview over the weekend, Mr Varadkar restated on Saturday that he would not seek the Tánaiste’s resignation.

Fine Gael Ministers said they were prepared to fight an election on the issue if needs be, but some senior party figures said there would be immense pressure on Ms Fitzgerald to resign to prevent a general election if no agreement was reached on Monday.