Belfast Telegraph

Ireland's minority government faces crisis over deputy premier's future

Ireland's minority government is facing crisis as a row over the future of its deputy premier threatens the confidence and supply deal keeping it in power.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald is resisting growing calls to quit over a controversy involving a bid to discredit a Garda whistleblower.

As opposition parties Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein separately threatened no confidence votes against her in the Dail parliament, Fine Gael ministers rallied to her defence.

Simon Coveney, Foreign Affairs Minister, said: "The Government is going to stand by the Tanaiste.

"What we have here are calls for her resignation built on sand. We are still not fully sure what she has been accused of."

Mr Coveney claimed the row was more about Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein competing for a political scalp.

The row deepened this week over her knowledge of a key email about the legal strategy deployed against Sergeant Maurice McCabe during an inquiry into his claims of bad policing.

But crisis hit when Fianna Fail - the main opposition party keeping Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's minority government in power through an historic confidence and supply arrangement - threatened to vote against Ms Fitzgerald in a confidence vote next week.

It then announced plans for its own no confidence motion in the Tanaiste. Sinn Fein had already vowed to table its no confidence motion.

If the Tanaiste remains in post next week and Fianna Fail follows through with its threat, its confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael would have been breached and a Christmas general election would be in the offing.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told the Taoiseach on Wednesday night he did not have confidence in the Tanaiste.

Urging her to quit, Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan told RTE the matter was the "most serious" challenge facing the 18-month-old support for the minority government.

Earlier in the Dail, Ms Fitzgerald rejected allegations she was privy to the conspiracy aimed at discrediting Mr McCabe.

Ms Fitzgerald told TDs: "I am trying to provide answers. I am not trying to hide anything. I was not part of any conspiracy to undermine Sergeant McCabe. Quite the contrary."

This week a Government email emerged indicating the Tanaiste was told in 2015 about the tactics being used by Garda lawyers at an inquiry examining allegations of malpractice.

The note, written by the assistant secretary of the Department of Justice, alerted Ms Fitzgerald, then justice minister, that "a serious criminal complaint" which had always been denied by Sgt McCabe, was raised at the commission.

Last year it emerged the legal team appointed by the former Garda commissioner was instructed to question Sgt McCabe's motivation and credibility during the inquiry.

The strategy pursued against Sgt McCabe is one of a number of issues being examined by an ongoing tribunal chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

Mr Coveney told RTE News that the Tanaiste's resignation would prejudge the work of the tribunal.

"It's also dangerous politically at a time when the country does not need an election," Mr Coveney said.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said that the Tanaiste acted appropriately over the affair. He added: "To have an election now would be incredibly irresponsible."

At an emergency meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Thursday night, members unanimously passed a motion to back Ms Fitzgerald.

Mr Varadkar told the gathering the Tanaiste was facing a "trumped up charge from the opposition".

Afterwards, Fine Gael's parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said: "What we have seen from both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail today is a political stunt, pure and simple. We will not allow the opposition to bully us.

"Sinn Fein is attempting to undermine the work of the Charleton Tribunal which was set up by the Fine Gael-led Government to investigate the treatment of Maurice McCabe and get to the bottom of whether or not there was a campaign against him - the same Charleton Tribunal that the opposition agreed to in the first place.

"History shows that Fine Gael adheres to due process and has respect for natural justice.

"Fine Gael stands fully and united behind the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald."

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