Republic of Ireland news

Political deadlock continues in Dublin over whistleblower row

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over the weekend. Picture by Olivier Matthys, Associated Press
David Young, Press Association

THE Republic's two main parties remained locked in a stand-off last night over a whistleblower controversy that threatens to bring down the government.

If the Fine Gael-led minority administration fails to resolve the bitter row with main opposition party Fianna Fáil by tomorrow, a snap pre-Christmas election looks the only option.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál 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 Tánaiste 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 yesterday 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.

Mr Martin, whose party is keeping Mr Varadkar's coalition government afloat through an 18-month-old confidence and supply agreement, has refused to back down on a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald - due to be debated tomorrow night.

Ms Fitzgerald could avoid an election by resigning but Mr Varadkar has made clear he does not want her to walk away.

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

Employment and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty yesterday insisted the government would still be able to represent the Republic'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 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 RTÉ's The Week in Politics that the Taoiseach was trying to provide "confidence and comfort" to Fianna Fáil's "misgivings".

Fianna Fáil 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.

Meanwhile, a new Sunday Business Post/Red C opinion poll has shown Fine Gael support has dropped two points to 27% with Fianna Fáil at 26% and Sinn Féin rising to 16%.

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