Thursday 27 April 2017

'Don't panic or be seen to panic' - Varadkar's message to party colleagues as he cuts short Colombia trip

  • TDs are 'freaking out' at the Taoiseach and Tánaiste's handling of Garda whistleblower crisis
  • Varadkar returns from Colombia trip early
  • Government get set for vote of no confidence
  • Martin: An election will only delay investigation

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar (right) with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar (right) with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Leo Varadkar has urged party colleagues "not to panic" as he flies home from Colombia to help the Government survive the no-confidence motion.

The Social Protection Minister had to ask permission from President Michael D Higgins to cut short his participation in the historic visit.

It comes as Fine Gael sources told the Irish Independent TDs are "freaking out" at the Taoiseach and Tánaiste's handling of the Garda whistleblower crisis.

Most felt their criticisms were too harsh to air publicly at this time, but there is a growing consensus within the party that Mr Kenny's days as leader have been cut short by the debacle.

"If he doesn't make an announcement soon it will be made for him," one TD, who would be seen as loyal to the Taoiseach, said.

The sense of crisis has been heightened by an opinion poll which puts Fine Gael on just 21pc, compared with Fianna Fáil's 32pc.

Officially, Mr Varadkar's decision to return home three days ahead of schedule is due to the need for every Government TD to be present for Sinn Féin's vote of no confidence next Thursday.

However, sources believe it is also a sign of just how precarious the entire situation has become for Mr Kenny's Government.

The Irish Independent has learned that in a message to party colleagues yesterday, Mr Varadkar said: "Worrying poll and trend. Important not to panic or be seen to panic. Everyone needs to stick together this week."

Fine Gael TDs suggested that Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan may have to resign over the controversy if they are to stop Fianna Fáil from collapsing the Government.

#HaveYourSay: Do you think the government will survive the whistleblower controversy?

"We're very damaged by this. It's a big, huge rotten mess and the truth is nobody knows how to solve it," one TD said.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton told RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke show that the Government is "nervous".

"There will always be this chase of who said what and who knew when and where. The core issue is that the Government handles this. We sought to ensure this by setting up an inquiry we did not cast aspersions on anyone until the evidence is sifted.

"People are calm, but if there is a fury in the papers people will get nervous but I think the job of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet is to demonstrate what we are doing is in the public interest."

Dublin North West TD Noel Rock, who was one of the party's breakthrough candidates in last year's election, said: "Opinion polls ask if there was an election tomorrow, who would you vote for? This is obviously a problem for Fine Gael, as the Taoiseach has been adamant that he's not leading Fine Gael into the next election.

"So, when people are polled they have no idea who they're being asked to vote for as Taoiseach.

"It's understandable that our poll rating will be depressed in those circumstances and it will probably remain that way until we are able to show who will be leading Fine Gael into the next election."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Public Expenditure Dara Calleary did note there are "serious mis-communication issues" at the heart of the Government.

He said he cannot understand how the minister failed to follow up with Minister Zappone when she was aware she had met with Sergeant McCabe.

Furthermore, Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs Jim Daly said he thinks the terms of reference of the Charleton Inquiry should be expanded to include the information in relation to Tusla.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also spoke out this morning and said an election now will delay the investigation and any possible consequences.

He told Cork's 96fm Opinion Line he finds it "hard to believe" it was a copy and past error on the Tusla report and said there appears to be "unrelenting" attacks on Sgt McCabe for years.

"The Commissioner herself should assess where she stands," he said.

'Politically irresponsible'

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said Sinn Féin's opportunistic move at calling a vote of no confidence is "politically irresponsible".

He also said answers must be provided to Sergeant McCabe "as a matter of urgency".

“The information which has come to light over the past few days is deeply concerning and I believe the Commission of Inquiry into this must start urgently," he said this morning.

"The level of ineptitude which is suggested by reports regarding the actions of TUSLA and An Garda Síochána is deeply troubling.

"Any political opportunism designed to bolster polling numbers should be treated with complete disdain by the Irish people as it will only serve to delay this crucial process."

Irish Independent

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