Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar stands firm as efforts continue to avert Dublin election

By David Young

The two main parties in the Republic remain locked in a stand-off over a police whistleblower controversy that threatens to bring down the country's government - just as the UK's Brexit talks with the European Union enter a crucial phase.

If the Fine Gael-led minority administration fails to resolve the bitter row with main opposition party Fianna Fail by tomorrow, 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 Tanaiste (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.

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 Mrs Fitzgerald.

It is scheduled for tomorrow night and, if Fianna Fail follows 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.

However, 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.

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.

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

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."

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