Election Crisis: Crunch time for Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar has left open the possibility of accepting the resignation of his Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, to avoid the country going through a bitter Christmas general election.

However, Fine Gael’s election war council met last night, a sign that Mr Varadkar may not back down. While Mr Varadkar does not want a political ‘execution’ of Ms Fitzgerald, his hopes of parking the Maurice McCabe email saga until the New Year are unlikely to be accepted by Fianna Fáil. Instead, pressure is now likely to increase on the Tánaiste to step aside this weekend even as emergency preparations get underway for a snap election that much of the country does not want.

Mr Varadkar confirmed that if Fianna Fáil goes ahead with its motion of no confidence against Ms Fitzgerald on Tuesday, there will be a general election. Ruling out “rushing to the Park” on the weekend to dissolve the Dáil, he said his preference, if needs be, was for a quick pre-Christmas vote.

Crunch talks between him and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will continue today on how to avoid a snap election.

However, in an interview with RTÉ News, Mr Varadkar failed to rule out accepting an offer by Ms Fitzgerald to stand down. This would stop Fianna Fáil withdrawing its support for the Government.

“I really hope that doesn’t arise and I won’t be seeking her resignation,” he said.

Senior Fine Gael figures also told the Irish Examiner Ms Fitzgerald would be given space over the weekend to consider things.

Mr Varadkar said the case against her was “flimsy” over claims that she failed to act on an email in May 2015 about a garda management strategy to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe. He pointed to a statement from the Charleton Tribunal- investigating an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe — which says it will now examine claims surrounding the email in early January.

“I believe in truth, fairness and justice and I don’t believe that the decapitation of the Tánaiste based on trumped-up charges is fair. Let’s all calm down a bit, pause for reflection,” the Taoiseach said.

He said he did not know if the country wanted to see an “execution without trial” of Ms Fitzgerald.

However, his appeal is likely to be rejected by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, which will drive ahead with motions of no confidence against the Tánaiste next week. An emergency meeting of Fine Gael’s national executive council today will also discuss preparations for any election, with 38 selection conventions out of 40 yet to be decided.

Mr Varadkar held a meeting of Fine Gael’s top figures, its war council, behind closed doors last night, with one senior source saying “there was now no way of going back”. The Independent Alliance coalition partners came out in support for the Tánaiste. It called on Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar to “swallow some pride” and not bring the Government down by causing “a completely needless election” over “a spat about an email”.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has made formal proposals to both leaders to postpone any motions until the New Year. The suggestion comes amid growing concern about legislation not passed yet on increased welfare payments and public sector pay improvements, as well as a crucial Brexit summit next month where the issue of the North and the Border is likely to dominate talks.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the office of the Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters — who announced his retirement last week — was told of the Garda strategy to discredit Sgt McCabe.

An unredacted version of the controversial email published by Broadsheet.ie shows the office of Mr Waters was included when it was sent to the Justice Minister two years ago. It also names four other senior officials who were informed.

  • Once the Dáil is dissolved, writs are issued to the returning officers;
  • Election must happen 15 to 30 days after excluding Sundays, bank holidays;
  • The earliest an election can be held is December 15 and the latest before Christmas is December 23;
  • Government sources have suggested December 19 as likely date of election;
  • Old boundaries will apply as legislation for updated constituencies has not yet passed;
  • 158 TDs will be elected from 40 constituencies.

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