Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar vows continued efforts to resolve crisis after Martin meeting

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to try to resolve a crisis which has threatened the future of his minority Government and a snap election.

Mr Varadkar met Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin for under an hour in Government Buildings in Dublin amid a deepening row over attempts to have a senior minister sacked.

And he vowed to continue negotiations.

"I think we still have an opportunity over the next couple of days and the weekend to avoid a general election," he said.

"I don't want there to be a general election. I don't think Micheal Martin wants one either."

Mr Martin, whose party is keeping the Taoiseach's Fine Gael Government alive through an 18-month-old confidence and supply agreement, has refused to budge on a motion of no confidence in deputy prime minister Frances Fitzgerald.

It is scheduled for next Tuesday and was called over the handling of a 2015 email that revealed attempts to discredit a Garda whistleblower.

But 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.

The Taoiseach said he would not be seeking Mrs Fitzgerald's resignation and he said the case against her was flimsy.

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 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.

Sinn Fein were first out of the blocks earlier this week with plans for a motion of no confidence.

Fianna Fail followed suit as the row deepened. But Mr Martin's demands for a head could ultimately bring down the minority Government as it signed up to abstain on motions of no confidence for three years.

Mr Varadkar said it was an issue of "truth, justice and fairness".

"I don't believe that the decapitation of the Tanaiste, based on trumped up charges, is fair," he told RTE's Six One News.

The treatment of Sergeant McCabe over several years and allegations of a smear campaign against him are being examined by the Disclosures Tribunal, chaired by Judge Peter Charleton.

The tribunal announced that in January it would also examine the email issue.

"Let's all calm down a bit, let's pause for reflection, let's withdraw these motions, get on with the business of parliament, of government over the next couple of weeks and allow the Charleton Tribunal, starting on January 8, get on with its work," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said he would not sack Mrs Fitzgerald to save the Government.

"What that would mean is me throwing a good woman under a bus for political expediency, to save myself and my own Government and that would be the wrong thing to do," he said.

Discussions between the Taoiseach and Mr Martin, described as open and frank, are to continue.

Mr Varadkar said that if a snap election is forced it will be called on Tuesday and it would be held in the week before Christmas. He rejected suggestions that it could be delayed until January.

"I don't know if it is the wishes of the country that we should have an execution without trial," the Taoiseach said.

"I think Irish people deep down believe in fair play, believe in justice, believe people should get a fair hearing and that we shouldn't have kangaroo courts and that the Dail (parliament) shouldn't operate in this manner."

Mr Varadkar said that an election in the week before Christmas would allow him to attend the European summit on Brexit in mid-December.

"In the final analysis you have to do what you feel is right," he said.

"I don't feel a summary execution of Frances Fitzgerald, when people don't even know the facts, when people don't even know the charge against even, is, would be wrong."

The Green Party urged both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein to postpone the motions until the new year to allow time for the Brexit negotiations.

The Independent Alliance, which supports the Government, urged both sides to pull back from the brink.

Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, said: "Going to the country in the weeks before Christmas is not what the public either needs or wants.

"Given present indications it seems possible, even likely, it could take months for a government to be formed."

The moves against the Tanaiste could lead to a general election being held right in the midst of a crunch Brexit summit in mid-December when the Irish border question is front and centre.

Another prospect is that voters could be asked to go to the polls in January.

The Tanaiste 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 commission.

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