Election Crisis: Frances Fitzgerald’s future hangs in the balance

Fine Gael supporters will this weekend rally around embattled Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and encourage her to remain on, as the Government fights off the possibility of a snap election.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has left the issue of her resignation hanging in the air, after he declined twice last night to rule out accepting it.

He saidL “I really hope that doesn’t arise and I certainly wouldn’t be seeking her resignation.”

Mr Varadkar’s willingness to still accept her resignation will turn the attention on the Tánaiste, as her supporters and constituency team in Dublin Mid-West rally around her this weekend.

Senior Fine Gael figures are also signalling that some last-minute compromise may be possible with Fianna Fáil to patch up the Government support pact.

The Fine Gael preference is for the controversy over the Garda whistleblower saga to be dealt with by the Charleton Tribunal, which will examine the controversy in January.

Fine Gael’s national executive council will hold an emergency meeting today, essentially to get the party into election mode.

Only two of 40 selection conventions for constituencies have been decided for the party, in just Dublin-Rathdown and Dublin North-West.

Mr Varadkar is expected to attend the meeting, which takes place at party headquarters in Dublin at 11.30am today.

A key issue is that the selection of candidates be sped up ahead of a possible dissolution of the Dáil next Tuesday — the day Fianna Fáil has tabled its motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste.

“This is about getting candidates ready, directors of elections, posters, and everything else,” said a senior party council source.

Party sources expect Ms Fitzgerald will meet local supporters in her constituency today, where councillors, her election team and advisers will embolden her.

Councillor Vickie Casserly of Lucan, Dublin, said: “Frances has been very diligent. She is the reason I got into politics. People around here feel she is a woman of integrity. But this is being described as a witch-hunt. Nobody wants an election over an email. We want to see her keep going. She will get our support.”

Other supporters of the Tánaiste said if there is an election, she would still contest it, even after the latest controversy over the treatment of Garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe.

Earlier, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty appealed to Fianna Fáil not to collapse the minority Government, saying: “There’s nobody in their right mind in this country who would think the people of this country want an election or deserve an election. We all need to cop onto ourselves and get around the table and sort out this mess once and for all.”

Ms Doherty also conceded there may be questions around the welfare increase as that legislation has yet to be passed through the Dáil.

While the Christmas bonus will be paid next week, increases in pension payments and welfare payments may be left in limbo at the moment, she said.

She also appealed for Fianna Fáil not to table a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

“I would beg Fianna Fáil — do not bring us to the polls,” she said.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also lashed Fianna Fáil TDs for cheering in the Dáil bar on Thursday night to the television news that support for the Government was being withdrawn.

In a strong defence of Ms Fitzgerald, he said: “If I hear another reference to the Fianna Fáil locker room at a time when our country is facing the kind of challenges that it is, it will only show again the motivations that are at play here.”

Mr Donohoe warned that “historic decisions” would have to be made in the weeks ahead, including on Brexit.

Crucially, however, Mr Donohoe seemed to hint that there could be a way of salvaging the Government support pact with Fianna Fáil.

Asked if the confidence and supply agreement was irrevocably damaged, he said it had suffered “an exceptionally serious blow”.

This leaves the door open for a compromise.

Fine Gael TDs are nervous about the prospect of a Christmas election, where issues of homelessness and hospital overcrowding may be used against TDs.

It is likely, in dark winter hours, that any campaign would be fought largely on the airwaves, rather than door-to-door, with deputies powerless to defend local issues on their home patch.

One Fine Gael minister privately said that, despite anger with Fianna Fáil, there was an acceptance that Ms Fitzgerald’s resignation may indeed be the only way to stave off a snap vote.

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