Election Crisis: Haughey was in a similar position

Charles Haughey told the assembled media: “I will not be asking for the Tánaiste’s resignation from the cabinet. I will not be putting him under any pressure to resign, nor will his cabinet colleagues. It is entirely a matter for my old friend of 30 years.”

It was 1990 and Brian Lenihan senior was in the wars, but the taoiseach was standing firmly behind his tánaiste, minister for defence and the aspiring president.

A few days later, Brian Lenihan was thrown under the bus, to borrow Leo Varadkar’s phrase. When his Progressive Democrat coalition partners threatened to collapse the government if Lenihan was not removed, Haughey unceremoniously sacked his tánaiste.

The current Taoiseach’s political style is very different to that of Mr Haughey. However, he is faced with a similar dilemma.

He is being asked to rid himself of a loyal and capable colleague, at the behest of another party which has the power to end his Government’s tenure.

Mr Varadkar’s believes an early election might give him a chance to strengthen his party’s mandate. If the Taoiseach is trying to force an election, while pinning the blame on Fianna Fáil, this is high-risk politics. Under the Constitution, the loss of this majority makes the Taoiseach’s right to an election very conditional and gives the President a major say.

Article 13.2.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states “the President may in his absolute discretion refuse to dissolve Dáil Éíreann on the advice of a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Eireann.” Under Article 28.10 if the President does refuse to grant a dissolution, the Taoiseach must resign, and the Dáil would then nominate a successor.

Mr Varadkar is no doubt aware that if he arrives at the Áras seeking a general election in the aftermath of a Dáil vote that has collapsed his Government’s majority, the President is within his rights to decline this request. This would make Mr Varadkar the shortest serving Taoiseach in our history. 

Brian Murphy lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology. He is the author of Forgotten Patriot: Douglas Hyde and the Foundation of the Irish Presidency

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