Sunday 18 August 2019

'All that can be done to avoid election is being done' - says Donohoe as country remains on brink of snap election

  • Donohoe: 'The important thing is to avoid an election'
  • Fianna Fáil organisers told to ease off on election planning
  • Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue in Cork
  • Countdown on with just hours to avoid snap election
  • 'Some progress was made' in Sunday night talks
Comments: Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Collins
Comments: Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Collins

Laura Larkin, Denise Calnan and Niall O'Connor

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has told an international broadcaster that "all is being done that can be done" to avoid a snap election as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin are meeting again today.

Today's crunch talks are the fourth attempt by the party leaders to avoid the collapse of the government after Fianna Fáil said it has lost confidence in Tánaiste France Fitzgerald.

The party's motion comes amid mounting criticism from the Opposition about Ms Fitzgerald's handling of an email relating to whistleblower Maurice McCabe which she received in 2015 and a legal strategy aimed at discrediting him.

Fianna Fáil have placed her resignation as a red-line issue to avoid a pre-Christmas election but Fine Gael have underlined their support of the Tanáiste. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is not seeking her resignation and to do so would be to "throw a good woman under the bus" for the sake of "expediency".

There was a clear cooling of attitudes in both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil camps today about the prospect of an election.

Fianna Fáil election organisers have been told this morning by party headquarters to ease off on election planning, Independent.ie understands.

Meanwhile, speaking today on Brexit and the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland Mr Donohoe appeared to downplay the escalating political tension in Ireland as he addressed an international audience. 

"All is being done that can be done to avoid an election taking place here in Ireland," Mr Donohoe told CNBC Monday.

The core issue at the centre of the gulf between the two parties has acquired a "momentum of its own" he said.

"I know her to be an absolutely competent and reforming minister. She and her predecessors though are dealing with a very, very complex issue in relation to the administration of justice in our country," he said.

"As I said I think the really important thing now is that all steps are taken to avoid an election happening .

"There is so much taking place at the moment that our country has to deal with from Brexit to other challenges abroad.

"Frances has done a fine job as Minister, she has my full support," he added.

He said work will be continuing over the coming day or so to avert an election.

He was speaking following three rounds of talks between Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin where "some progress" was made but no deal was reached.

Mr Donohoe's cabinet colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, said it is now the time for "cool heads".

He told Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One that Ms Fitzgerald has not had an opportunity to go to the Disclosures Tribunal to answer questions.

He said the tribunal will start hearing on these issues on 8 January, and added that now is the time for "cool heads".

He said the truth must be established through a proper process.

Pressure

The crisis comes at a time when ministers are preparing for December's crunch EU summit on December 14 and 15, when the fate of the Irish border post-Brexit could effectively be determined.

In the event of an election Mr Varadkar would be attending the summit as a caretaker Taoiseach which Fine Gael argue would leave Ireland in a weakened position at a crucial juncture.

The email at the centre of the controversy 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 on Sunday when it emerged the 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.

The revelation raised further questions about the extent of contact about the matter between the Garda and the Department of Justice at the time.

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 Tanaiste Mrs Fitzgerald.

It is scheduled for Tuesday night and, if Fianna Fail follow through with it, the confidence and supply pact would be broken and the Government would fall.

Optimistic

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast morning Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said it is clear nobody wants an election except Sinn Féin and said the onus now falls on Fianna Fáil to avoid one.

Minister Regina Doherty said she is still optimistic that an election can be avoided.

"What we have all discovered at the weekend is the level of dysfunction in the Department of Justice - I was going to say shocked us all - but it hasn't," she said.

Ms Doherty said it is  "clear to me is that the country wouldn't be in any different position than we are today", except for a weakened position in relation to Brexit and Northen Ireland.

She continued her defence of Ms Fitzgerald and dismissed claims by her constituency colleague Thomas Byrne (FF) who said the fact that the minister did not know of  the call from the Garda Commissioner was enough to warrant her stepping aside.

Ms Doherty said it is clear nobody wants an election except Sinn Féin and said the onus now falls on Fianna Fáil to avoid one.

When you have people sitting around an table telling you they don't want an election well then it becomes their responsibility to make sure we don't have one," she said.

"I'm always optimistic... there is nothing that can't be solved in the next 24 hours so we don't need an election," she said.

Meanwhile, on RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin's Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh O'Laoghaire said the only solution to the crisis is for Frances Fitzgerald to resign.

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh O'Laoghaire said he does not think it is a sufficient solution for Frances Fitzgerald to step aside temporarily.

"The Dáil has lost confidence in her, I would say. If it came to a vote, I think it would be clear.

"The Fianna Fáil deputies last week had no confidence in her.

"It could be a situation where she perhaps stands aside, but continues to hold a prominent role in proxy, because she does not have the confidence of the Dáil."

He continued: "Frances Fitzgerald is a likeable woman, but this doesn't mean this issue can be set aside.

"She did wrong. She failed to do anything to support Maurice McCabe."

He also said he did not think an apology or a reworking of the Department of Justice was sufficient.

"While there are issues in the Department of Justice, this is an issue of political accountability.

"It is very clear the Dáil does not have confidence in Frances Fitzgerald.

"It is very clear that the case for defence is unravelling.

"The claim that there was no prior knowledge has been dismissed.

"That she couldn't do anything about it has been disproven.

"The point that it was so insignificant she couldn't remember or didn't know about it has been dispelled.

"The case for the defence has collapsed.

"The only resolution to this is Frances Fitzgerald to resign."

Crisis

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told Today with Sean O'Rourke that his party are not in "heads on the plates territory".

"Our country is at crisis point but we would say no to an election before Christmas.

"We have Brexit talks in December and that has priority.

"For that reason, we said we're not looking for heads on plates.

"Frances Fitzgerald and Charlie Flanagan have showed a lack of competence, and further revelations at the weekend have just copper-fastened that.

"It's not as if we're saying Frances Fitzgerald has done a great job.

"We think in the bigger scheme of things, we have Brexit talks in December, we have an Eighth Amendment committee that is ongoing.

"Christmas is a period that we do downtime.

"The whole country says we meet friends, we clean houses, we have people over.

"It won't serve the political system by having an election in the middle of it."

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