Dublin government teeters on the brink over Garda controversy

Irish deputy premier Frances Fitgerald is under intense pressure to resign
Irish deputy premier Frances Fitgerald is under intense pressure to resign

Ireland’s two main parties are locked in a stand off over a controversy that threatens to bring down the country’s government.

If the Fine Gael-led minority administration fails to resolve the row with main opposition party Fianna Fail by Tuesday, a snap pre-Christmas election looks the only option.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin have held talks this weekend to avert a government meltdown at a time when ministers are preparing for December’s EU summit, when the fate of the Irish border post-Brexit could be determined.

The wrangle surrounds the future of deputy premier Frances Fitzgerald who is under pressure to resign over her handling of a 2015 email that revealed attempts to discredit a Garda whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The email has raised questions over Mrs Fitzgerald’s denials, a year later, that she knew nothing of the legal strategy deployed by the Garda to question the motives of Mr McCabe during a 2015 tribunal that examined his claims of police malpractice.

It emerged today that then Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan discussed the strategy in a phone call with a Department of Justice official during the tribunal.

The revelation raised further questions about the extent of contact about the matter between the Garda and the Department of Justice.

Mr Martin, whose party is keeping Mr Varadkar’s government alive through a confidence and supply agreement, has refused to back down on a motion of no confidence in Tanaiste Mrs Fitzgerald. It is scheduled for Tuesday night and, if it passed the government would fall.

A way out of the impasse could be for Mrs Fitzgerald to resign but Mr Varadkar does not want her to quit.

Today, Employment and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said regardless of what happens on Tuesday there will still be a government and “who will go to Europe in December”.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said the only way an election in the Republic could be averted was for deputy premier Frances Fitzgerald to stand down.

“The ball is in Leo Varadkar’s court,” she said.

“He has to decide does he put his party and his colleague first or is he willing to accept the fact that confidence in Frances Fitzgerald has run out and for very good reasons.”

Fianna Fail TD Dara Calleary said his party was trying to hold the government to account.

“We are trying to get answers – that’s what our job is,” he said.