Martin needs a win or his party credibility is damaged

Having called for the head of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald last Thursday, he has spent the past four days seeking a way out of causing a general election.

The twice-defeated Fianna Fáil leader needs a win and anything short of the Tánaiste’s head will represent an embarrassing climbdown, it would seem.

From the trenchant calls last Thursday from justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan calling for Fitzgerad to resign and nothing short of that being acceptable, we moved to the very reasonable tones voiced by the normally combative Thomas Byrne on TV last night.

All the signs throughout yesterday was that a deal was likely. It was clear that politicians from both sides had been given a message from their supporters and constituents over the weekend that a general election would not be welcomed.

It seemed then as a result, that the crux of the matter is that if Micheál does not land the head of the Tánaiste, what else can he get in its stead that satisfies the blood lust within his own ranks?

As we reported yesterday, Leo Varadkar and Martin have agreed to introduce a radical overhaul of the Department of Justice, which would see it broken in two, in addition with some form of an apology in the Dáil from Fitzgerald plus a commitment to ammend the terms of the Disclosures Tribunal to examine her role in the affair.

Whether that suffices remains to be seen, but Martin needs a win or his credibility will be damaged internally.

He is leader of his party, but the question is whether he is control of it.

The much disputed gathering in the Dáil bar while O’Callaghan was on putting the boot in to Fitzgerald was a stark illustration of how tricky his position is.

There are many within his own frontbench who are not fans of the confidence and supply arrangement and are more than happy to see an end to this “temporary little arrangement” as Albert Reynolds once said about the coalition with the Progressive Democrats.

Should Micheál fail to land the head and not pull the plug on the Government, then he runs the high risk of appearing to cave.

However, should he fail to land the head of Fitzgerald and go ahead with the motion of no confidence, then he will be blamed for causing the general election at Christmas time.

Either option is high risk and success is far from guaranteed.

Most of the choreography from the weekend between himself and Varadkar has been about trying to avoid being blamed if the process collapsed. Hence such pleasant nice words from ministers and their opposite numbers on the airwaves throughout yesterday.

The one contribution of note yesterday came from the Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

Coveney began the day yesterday by accepting that Fianna Fáil and the public want to see some form of accountability and that is likely to happen. That was an important move from the earlier language over the weekend that Fitzgerald “had done nothing wrong”.

My sources tell me that support for Fitzgerald continuing on is not strong within Fine Gael.

“She may be a pain, but she is our pain, and we won’t have anyone else tell us who to sack,” one minister said to me yesterday.

The Taoiseach’s unwavering support for his Tanaiste has puzzled some party colleagues, given her age and perception that she would most likely make room at the next reshuffle.

Varadkar’s insistence that Fitzgerald’s head is not up for discussion up until last night has put it up to Martin and left the Fianna Fáil leader feeling the squeeze.

The release of newly discovered documents from within the Department of Justice show two key things.

Firstly, they show that she not only read the crucial email of May 15, 2015, from senior official Michael Flahive which detailed the dispute over the legal strategy, but that “she noted” it too.

But more importantly, Fitzgerald’s story to date is that she only knew of the detail of the hostile strategy when Michael Clifford in the Irish Examiner and Katie Hannon brought it into the public domain in 2016.

An email from official Ken O’Leary shows that in July 2015, the Tánaiste was informed about the campaign to undermine McCabe by way of press queries to the Garda Commissioner’s office from RTE’s This Week programme.

Further to that, it would seem justice officials discussed directly with senior Garda officers as to how to respond. This would appear to contradict her position significantly and undermine her established story.

Initial signals from Fianna Fáil last night were that the O’Leary email was a serious development and further underlines the case for her
to resign.

Ultimately, even if she survives, Fitzgerald’s standing is substantially diminished.

Her handling of the entire affair has been questionable and it is clear this has to do with far more than just one missed email.

Also, it begs the questions as to how these newly found documents were not already in the possession of the Disclosures Tribunal. It is incompetence or something more sinister?

Just as we felt the election was being averted, the release of the documents clearly is an additional stick for Martin to beat in his negotiations with Varadkar.

While it looked bad for Fitzgerald last night, today will decide much of the fate of this Government and also the leadership of Micheál Martin.

He faces being the first Fianna Fáil leader in history not to become Taoiseach and should he force the election and finish behind Fine Gael in terms of seats, then he will not doubt face a heave from within his own ranks.

Either way for Martin, neither option looks good and he has much to do if he is to emerge from this crisis with his position secured and enhanced.


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