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Prospect of election in Republic recedes - for now

The resignation of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has averted the prospect of a Christmas election in the Republic and defused a growing political crisis that threatened to undermine the taoiseach's strategy at a crucial point in the Brexit negotiations.

However, this entire controversy has undoubtedly damaged Fine Gael's confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil and is a considerable setback for Leo Varadkar, who has enjoyed a fair wind since becoming leader in June and initially had his party behind him in his firm backing of the tánaiste.

Despite his support, the emergence of fresh emails in relation to Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe raised questions about Frances Fitzgerald's handling of this whistleblower case, which has claimed an extraordinary number of high profile casualties to date.

Even after her resignation yesterday morning, the taoiseach maintained a loyal defence of the minister's actions, saying she was only leaving to avoid an `unnecessary and early general election.'

In truth, there was little political appetite among the parties for an election campaign in the run up to Christmas and such a poll would have had a destabilising impact on Brexit which is reaching a pivotal stage in terms of the Irish border issue.

An election at this point would have caused difficulties on a range of fronts and would have introduced greater uncertainty at an already fraught time.

Although this episode has raised concerns over Mr Varadkar's judgment, in terms of Brexit he is in an unusually strong position at this moment with the British government pushing hard for a start to trade negotiations and the Irish side resisting movement until the vitally important border question is satisfactorily resolved.

The Irish government understands the importance of this particular phase and the long term repercussions for this island.

What the Frances Fitzgerald controversy has done is exposed the fragility of the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil agreement and talk of an election may well hasten a poll early next year.

Hopefully by then there will be a bit more clarity, not just over Brexit but also the political institutions in the north.

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