Politics: general election should be avoided
Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin must prioritise their duty to those beyond the political bubble
Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin in the grounds of Government Buildings . Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Some within the political establishment will wake up this morning and pinch themselves in the hope of finding they have spent the last few days in a false reality. No grouping in Leinster House wants a general election at this point – least of all in the run-up to Christmas – yet that prospect looked increasingly likely yesterday as the toxic nexus between An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice propelled the 32nd Dáil towards the precipice.
The exercise in so-called “new politics” was always destined to end in conflict of some sort. But issues relating to policing would not have been the battleground of choice. And, in truth, these events are little more than a trigger for a fight that has been in search of a cause since Leo Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader. That transition altered the personal and practical dynamics between the two main parties as Varadkar and Micheál Martin look to the prize of leading the biggest party in the next Dáil.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is an unlikely figure at the heart of the battle. It is difficult to fathom why she did not respond to the content of an email to her as Minister for Justice in May 2015, relating to garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. All the more so when this and associated issues had already claimed the careers of senior figures in politics, policing and the Department of Justice. That is compounded by her failure to remember the email and a confused narrative over timing.
Though issues of omission rather than commission, questions arise. But with the necessary political will, these could have been referred to Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s Disclosures Tribunal which is already under way. Rather than de-escallation, however, momentum through much of yesterday was in the opposite direction as Varadkar and Fine Gael stood squarely behind Fitzgerald who has shown no sign, as yet, of falling on her sword. At the same time, Fianna Fáil appeared to have concluded it had found a solution to its own dilemma over how to reverse out of the confidence-and-supply arrangement.
After meeting yesterday afternoon, Varadkar and Martin agreed to continue efforts to find a compromise today. The confidence element of the deal between their parties is dead but in deciding their next steps, they should consider their duty to those beyond the political bubble. What of the housing and homelessness crisis, an anticipated beds emergency in hospitals and the most critical phase yet in the Brexit negotiations?
If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil contrive to put their own interests ahead of addressing these issues, they risk further undermining confidence in the political system and driving a wedge between real politics and real life. The message TDs receive in their constituencies this weekend will be telling. A general election should be avoided.