Political crisis: pressure mounts on Fitzgerald

Tánaiste must choose between her personal interests and the public good

In their discussions, away from the heated, jungle-like atmosphere that Leinster House can create, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (above) and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appeared to make progress in resolving – or at least parking – issues that gave rise to the Frances Fitzgerald controversy. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire

In their discussions, away from the heated, jungle-like atmosphere that Leinster House can create, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (above) and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appeared to make progress in resolving – or at least parking – issues that gave rise to the Frances Fitzgerald controversy. Photograph: Niall Carson /PA Wire

 

The public and the major political parties say they don’t want it. Few understand the detail of the labyrinthine activities that could spawn it. Yet that has not prevented the prospect of a general election at a time when the actions – or inactions – of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald have become increasingly inexplicable, and when political stability and Government focus are absolute requirements at a key stage in the Brexit negotiations.

Avoiding an election at this point represents a considerable political risk for both men because of the jingoistic behaviour of elements within their parties

Politics is about compromise and statesmanship. It is also about facing reality. Avoiding an election requires Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to put the interests of the State before macho posturing and party considerations. And in the case of Fitzgerald, it requires her to choose between her personal interests and the public good.

In their discussions, away from the heated, jungle-like atmosphere that Leinster House can create, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin appeared yesterday to have made progress in resolving – or at least parking – the issues that gave rise to the controversy. Avoiding an election at this point represents a considerable political risk for both men because of the jingoistic behaviour of elements within their parties.

In spite of that, pragmatism rather than passion appeared to be winning out. It was acknowledged that Fitzgerald failed to take action on the contents of an email relating to Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe and, then, she forgot having received it. However, that unexplained sequence of events was rendered all the more inexplicable by the disclosure in Department of Justice emails last night that she had been made aware subsequently of media queries about the same issue. These developments significantly raised the ante, testing Fianna Fáil’s willingness to step back from the brink and Fine Gael’s unity in backing its Tánaiste at the price of an election.

Ministers and TDs were left in no doubt by their constituents in recent days that a pre-Christmas election would not be welcomed

Although the three-budget confidence-and-supply deal between the two parties has appeared as good as dead – if not buried – in recent days, the arrangement provides for discussions between the party leaders when difficulties arise. That clause has been a vital component in trying to keep the Dáil alive, against a backdrop of the political reality that elections are called on the basis of perceived advantage. And, on present figures, neither party would be capable of forming a coalition government.

Ministers and TDs were left in no doubt by their constituents in recent days that a pre-Christmas election would not be welcomed. Only Sinn Féin, buffeted by events in Northern Ireland, has held out. The Government has a lot to do. Important legislation has to be passed. Housing, homelessness and healthcare require comprehensive action, even as Brexit negotiations enter a critical phase. All of this put the focus on Varadkar and Martin. But the big question was for Fitzgerald.

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