In effect, while Fianna Fáil is officially adamant its no confidence motion that has cancelled the confidence and supply deal must go ahead, it is informally still hoping Frances Fitzgerald steps down this weekend to avert an election neither they nor Fine Gael really want.
That is the view of Fianna Fáil TDs after a week of increasing tension and the genuine prospect the Government will collapse within days, who speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday outlined what is happening behind the scenes in their party.
After Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan told RTÉ on Thursday the party would table a no confidence motion in Ms Fitzgerald next Tuesday, Micheál Martin yesterday morning called an emergency frontbench meeting to outline the plan.
During the 90-minute discussion, Mr Martin informed his most senior TDs of the reason for the move — which they were not informed of before it was announced and were not given a chance to vote on — and explained why it is needed at this stage.
Mr Martin was backed by the vast majority of party spokespeople, with communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley, housing spokesperson Barry Cowen and transport spokesperson Robert Troy speaking in support of the move.
A number of TDs subsequently acted on the party’s plan to emphasise the damage done to Maurice McCabe over the inaccurate criminal claims made against him when speaking with reporters, with Mr Dooley telling the Irish Examiner “let’s not forget at the baseline of this is the fact Maurice McCabe was accused of being a paedophile”, and that the no confidence motion is a matter of justice — a view repeated by Mr Martin on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.
The message was clear — we are not backing down — and on the surface means an election within days is inevitable as Fine Gael is also insistent it will not remove Ms Fitzgerald.
However, despite the strong public line, other TDs present at the Fianna Fáil frontbench meeting also said although they agree with the position they still want to give space for Ms Fitzgerald to potential step down of her own accord and avoid an election — a strategy that may work out best for all concerned.
Among those was one TD who said “it solves the problem” if Ms Fitzgerald chooses to step down of her own accord at the weekend.
“Look, we’re not gunning for an election, we don’t have our candidates nor do they, so it won’t suit anyone. So that would solve the problem,” he said.
Another frontbench TD told this newspaper, “the only out I see is Frances going of her own volition” and that “personally I feel she will resign”, while a third said the move is the only way out.
A number of party members said in this situation the confidence and supply deal could be repaired in the short term and may be able to drag on into early 2018 allowing the party to plan ahead.
However, while one TD said any resurrected deal could even last as long as the next budget, in reality most accept that even if Ms Fitzgerald resigns now an election is imminent in the coming months.
Speaking to reporters as they individually left the frontbench meeting yesterday, a number of Fianna Fáil TDs publicly underlined the side door solution to the election crisis facing the Dáil.
Transport spokesperson Robert Troy said he “hopes Frances Fitzgerald does the right thing”, while finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said “it’s [resigning] a decision she will have to make herself and it will have national consequences”.
Jobs spokesperson Niall Collins said “to fix this, the Tánaiste has to resign or we’re facing an election”, while health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said “it’s clear either the Tánaiste resigns or the Taoiseach’s aggressive stance is going to plunge everyone into an election”.
However, despite the strong support for the no confidence motion and the repeated references to Ms Fitzgerald potentially resigning of her own accord, it is understood one TD — rural affairs spokesperson Éamon Ó Cuív — cautioned on pushing too hard.
While publicly backing the no confidence motion strategy, Mr Ó Cuív is understood to have raised concerns at the private frontbench meeting of the potential knock-on effect of an election on the McCabe issue.
He is believed to have said that ultimately people in large parts of the country do not care about the McCabe controversy, and that when the election starts it will be about taxes, housing and jobs — issues which may come back to bite Fianna Fáil.
Staring into the precipice of an election no one wants, Fianna Fáil is calling for war while planning for peace, with at least one well-weathered foot soldier glancing behind him aware any attack may leave the party just as vulnerable as its long-term enemy.