Belfast Telegraph

Political deadlock continues in Dublin over whistleblower row

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

If the Fine Gael-led minority administration fails to resolve the bitter 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 held talks over the weekend in a bid to avert a government meltdown at a time when ministers are preparing for December's crunch EU summit, when the fate of the Irish border post-Brexit could effectively be determined.

The wrangle surrounds the future of deputy premier Frances Fitzgerald who is under intense 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 contentious legal strategy deployed by the Garda to question the motives of Mr McCabe during a 2015 tribunal that examined his claims of police malpractice.

The controversy took another twist on Sunday when it emerged then Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan had discussed the strategy in a phone call with a senior Department of Justice official while the tribunal was still ongoing.

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

Mr Martin, whose party is keeping Mr Varadkar's coalition government alive through an 18-month-old 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 Fianna Fail follow through with it, the confidence and supply pact would be broken and the Government would fall.

One way out of the impasse could be for Mrs Fitzgerald to fall on her sword but Mr Varadkar has made clear he does not want her to walk away.

If the Dail is dissolved, Mr Varadkar would be reduced to the role of caretaker taoiseach when he travels to Brussels for the summit.

The crisis has erupted at a time when Ireland's stance on Brexit - in particular its call for Northern Ireland to adhere to an EU customs framework - is threatening to thwart the UK government's desire to progress negotiations with Europe on to a future trade deal.

On Sunday, Employment and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty tried to assure the Irish public that the Government would still be able to represent Ireland's best interests in Brussels.

"Regardless of what happens on Tuesday you will still have a government and you will still have a department and team of people who will go to Europe in December, despite of what the political establishment is going to force us into, and make sure we get the best deal that we can," she said.

"Because absolutely that trumps everything that we are talking about, not to be disrespectful to Maurice McCabe who absolutely deserves justice for the years he has been put through, the pain and torture he has been put through."

On Saturday, Mr Varadkar provided Mr Martin with an update on a emergency trawl of documents within the Department of Justice to locate any additional information on the whistleblower furore.

That trawl unearthed details of Ms O'Sullivan's phone call to the Department of Justice official.

Ms Doherty told RTE's The Week in Politics that the Taoiseach was trying to provide "confidence and comfort" to Fianna Fail's "misgivings".

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.

Mr Calleary added: "Confidence and supply is dependent on us having confidence in the Government.

"The Government must realise that in order to earn confidence we must trust them."

He also denied claims from critics that recent events were less about the specific issue and more about the Fianna Fail base growing frustrated with propping up a government led by their arch rivals.

Mrs Fitzgerald has defended her handling of the email issue amid allegations she was aware of the campaign by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner and took no action.

On Sunday, she faced fresh questions as to whether she discussed the email with Ms O'Sullivan when she attended a memorial event with her the day after she received it.

Sinn Fein were first out of the blocks earlier this week with plans for a motion of no confidence, with Fianna Fail then declaring its intention to follow suit.

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said the only way an election could be averted was for Mrs Fitzgerald to go.

"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."

The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin made a pointed reference to the political stand-off in a homily on Sunday morning.

"Our city and our country have many urgent needs," he said.

"I appeal this morning to political leaders to place these needs first.

"Splintering and bickering damage not just politics but damage the service people need."


From Belfast Telegraph