FG does not have a deal with Sinn Féin, Taoiseach insists
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has moved to distance his party from Sinn Féin amid mounting calls for him to scrap legislation that will overhaul how judges are appointed.
The Fine Gael leader has said in public and at a private party meeting that there was no deal.
However, Mary Lou McDonald's party has said Mr Varadkar "can call it whatever he wants" but Sinn Féin has agreed to back the controversial Judicial Appointments Bill in exchange for progress on sentencing guidelines.
The backroom deal has caused unease in Fine Gael with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe stating he would "prefer" if the Government could pass the law with the support of other members of the Opposition.
The bill, which will establish a committee with a lay majority to advise the Government on judicial appointments, has been beset with difficulties from its inception. Once described as a "dog's dinner" by the Attorney General, the Government has faced calls to abandon the legislation and begin again.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin criticised both the deal and the bill as a farce that has descended into a crisis.
"It is becoming more evident now that Fine Gael is content to rely on Sinn Féin support to remain in power and satisfy the demands of Minister Shane Ross, and Sinn Féin is happy to give it.
"The budding relationship has progressed rapidly since the voting pact for the two by-elections in the Seanad," he said.
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The legislation was a red line for Independent TD and Transport Minister Mr Ross to secure his backing for Mr Varadkar's minority Government.
The focus on the deal between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael sharpened in recent days following comments made by the Sinn Féin party whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who claimed judges in the Special Criminal Court had shown an "anti-Republican bias", claims dismissed by the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan as "groundless".
Mr Varadkar said there had been a commitment on sentencing guidelines. He added that voting records showed Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were far more likely to vote with each other and that Fine Gael and Sinn Féin doing so was "exceptional". "We actually agree with the concept of sentencing guidelines... so it wasn't hard for us to make that commitment because it's something that we were happy to do in any case," he said.
However, Sinn Féin deputy Eoin Ó Broin said: "There is a very clear agreement, there will be a progressing of sentencing guidelines in another piece of legislation and that's part of the basis on which we are willing to support the bill.
"So Leo Varadkar can call it whatever he wants but it's clearly an agreement that Government will progress something that's very important to our party," he said.