Tuesday 20 August 2019

'I won’t be seeking her resignation, I don’t want her to offer it to me' - Varadkar delivers strong defence of embattled Tánaiste at #FemFest conference

Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar Photo: Collins
Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar Photo: Collins

Cormac McQuinn and Mary McDonnell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has this morning delivered a strong defence of embattled Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Mr Varadkar used a speech at the National Women’s Council of Ireland to again insist Ms Fitzgerald has done nothing wrong in her handling of a 2015 email relating to the Garda whistleblower scandal.

The country is on the brink of a Christmas election after Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil tabled motions of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

Mr Varadkar is expected to hold talks with Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin over the weekend before the Dail reconvenes on Tuesday.

Both parties want to avoid a snap general election which could be held before Christmas if the parties don’t come to an agreement.

Mr Martin has called on the Tanaiste to step down. Mr Varadkar has insisted he won’t seek her resignation.

Read more: Why Leo Varadkar could hammer out gains in a grim election

Speaking at the opening of the #FemFest conference for young women Mr Varadkar said: "I sincerely hope it won’t be my last engagement as Taoiseach".

Later in his speech he went on to defend Ms Fitzgerald. He asked the crowd what kind of message the Government would send if an “honourable” woman’s career is sacrificed without a fair hearing.

He said she was a role model for him in politics and he’s "proud to stand tall with her".

Mr Varadkar outlined her record over 25 years in political life in fighting for women’s rights. He said he believes the "majority of the Irish public" don’t want the Tanaiste to stand down.

He told reporters at the conference: "I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about this. There’s no subtle message being sent out there to the Tanaiste that she should even consider resigning. I won’t be seeking her resignation, I don’t want her to offer it to me. As I said yesterday, I don’t think she has done anything wrong. I think there’s a real injustice here in people calling on her to resign in these circumstances.

"I don’t want to see our Dail, our parliament, turned into a jury. I don’t want to see a good woman who has been a real asset to Irish politics brought down in this way. I don’t think it would be fair. I don’t think it would be right. I don’t think the majority of the Irish population want it to happen.

"My sense is that the public don’t want there to be an election either before Christmas or in the New Year.  Most people feel that the Government is functioning, that we’re in a strong position on Brexit in particular at a very precarious time and the Government should be allowed to continue its work."

He said he doesn’t know what the mechanism is for refusing her resignation if Ms Fitzgerald does decide to step down.

 He said: "I hope she doesn’t offer it because it’s a difficult question to ask. I’m not exactly sure what the mechanism is to refuse somebody’s resignation. If somebody resigns and they vacate their office and go home can you force them to come into work?"

He said Government should await the outcome of the Charleton tribunal.

In his speech, an Taoiseach also reiterated his promise to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment by summer if the Government can draw up the legislation in time.

He said: “I was four when the Eighth Amendment was voted on but I know many of the young women at #FemFest weren’t alive.”

He also said more needs to be done to shatter the glass ceiling. He said the country has "suffered for many years due to lack of female voices" and 100 years on from suffrage, "more needs to be done".

The Government is set to pilot a gender budgeting initiative for Budget 2019 and is committed to funding a second SAVI report on sexual violence. He said: "It's not a question of if, but how we do it."

The Government was criticised for not committing to fund a €1m study to update Irish research on sexual violence given that the last major study – the SAVI report - is 15 years old.

Online Editors

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