Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach urges deputy PM not to quit amid pressure over email on whistleblower

Ireland's Taoiseach has told the country's deputy premier she should not even consider quitting amid a furore that has brought his administration to the brink of collapse.

With Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael government and the Dail's main opposition party Fianna Fail on a collision course over Frances Fitzgerald's future, there has been speculation the Tanaiste may fall on her own sword to avert a general election.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted there to be no ambiguity over his public declarations of support for Ms Fitzgerald, who is under intense pressure over her handling of a 2015 email that revealed attempts to discredit a Garda whistleblower.

The Fine Gael leader rejected any suggestion he was privately hoping his party colleague would walk away to quell the crisis.

"I don't want there to be any ambiguity about this, there is no subtle message being sent out there to the Tanaiste that she should even consider resigning," he said.

"I won't be seeking her resignation, I don't want her to offer it to me."

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are set to continue talks over the weekend in a bid to find a resolution to the row over Mrs Fitzgerald's position.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, whose party is keeping Mr Varadkar's minority coalition government alive through an 18-month-old confidence and supply agreement, has refused to budge on a motion of no confidence in the Tanaiste.

It is scheduled for next Tuesday and, if Fianna Fail follow through with it, the confidence and supply agreement would be broken and the government would fall, forcing a pre-Christmas election.

The threat of an election has caused turmoil in government and political circles, with the biggest fear that it would be fought in the teeth of Brexit negotiations which could determine the future of the Irish border.

Attending an event in Dublin on Saturday focused on role models for young women, Mr Varadkar reiterated his view that Mrs Fitzgerald had done nothing wrong.

"I think there is a real injustice here in people calling for her to resign in these circumstances," he said.

"I don't want to see a good woman who I think has done enormous service in Irish public life, who has been a real asset to Irish politics, brought down in this way.

"I just don't think it would be fair, I don't think it would be right and I don't think the majority of the Irish people would like that to happen."

He added: "I am not willing to sacrifice a good person just so the government can continue its work in these circumstances."

Earlier, Mr Varadkar used his speech at the opening of the FemFest conference in the city's Liberty Hall to publicly signal his support for the embattled Tanaiste, hailing her as an "honourable and distinguished politician".

The crisis centres on Mrs Fitzgerald's knowledge of a legal strategy to be employed by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner that was designed to discredit whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe at a private inquiry into his allegations of bad policing.

The information was contained in an email sent to the Tanaiste by a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Justice in 2015. It also advised that legally she had no grounds to intervene.

The Taoiseach has said Mrs Fitzgerald had been advised not to intervene in the legal strategy. He said that has since been backed up by advice from the Attorney General.

The Tanaiste has faced days of allegations from opposition parties that she was aware of the campaign by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner and took no action.

She has said she cannot remember getting the email in 2015. It alerted her that "a serious criminal complaint", which had always been denied by Sgt McCabe, was raised at the inquiry.

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.

On Saturday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made clear his party would press ahead with its motion, regardless of the outcome of the crisis talks between the Dail's two main parties.

"The only thing that will prevent this is the Tanaiste stepping down," Mr Adams said in Drogheda.

"This is nothing personal against Frances Fitzgerald. This is Sinn Fein doing our job - holding the government to account."

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