Monday 23 September 2019

'We don't want an election... Frances Fitzgerald should step aside' - Micheál Martin's ultimatum to Fine Gael

Motion of no confidence lodged this morning

Amy Molloy, Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said his party "does not want a general election" and has called on Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald to step down.

His ultimatum to Fine Gael follows the lodging of a motion of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald by Fianna Fáil this morning.

The motion is over concerns about the way Ms Fitzgerald handled the whistleblower controversy during her time as Justice Minister, in particular her lack of response to an email outlining clashes between legal teams for An Garda Síochána and whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe in 2015.

It reads: "Dáil Éireann no longer has confidence in the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD."

Mr Martin said "the whole situation is unsatisfactory" and said "there has been a breakdown of trust" between the various parties.

Speaking on RTÉ’s 'Today with Séan O’Rourke', Mr Martin said he had initiated contact with Mr Varadkar this week but he did not respond in a satisfactory manner.

He said his party is preparing for an immediate election before Christmas, adding that he does not have confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

“Do you not think there is something fundamentally wrong with the inability to tell a story straight?”

Mr Martin said his patience has now been stretched to the limit and that Sgt McCabe was mistreated.

“It is about something that is core to every citizen in this country. The rights of citizens must be protected,” the Cork South Central TD said.

Mr Martin also ruled out the prospect of entering government with Sinn Féin. And he denied that his own position will be in jeopardy if he fails to emerge from the election with the largest number of Dáil seats.

Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said there is "no reason for Frances Fitzgerald to resign" and accused Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil of "trying to damage the government" by lodging the motion.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister Coveney hit out at Fianna Fáil and accused them of trying to bring down the government for "political party reasons".

"What we are dealing with today is Fianna Fáil insisting on moving a motion of no confidence in a Tánaiste who is being accused of not protecting whistleblowers on the basis of facts that have not been established by a tribunal. We need to call this for what it is. This is reckless politics that is politically opportunistic to damage a Taoiseach who is doing a really good job and to a damage a government that is trying to move forward," he said.

The Fine Gael politician also said there is no reason for Ms Fitzgerald to resign and insisted Leo Varadkar is "not going to abandon his Tánaiste".

"Leo Varadkar is not going to ask her to resign on the back of a case which Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have made. We don't think this even stands up. We think it is a case built on sand.

"...This is because the Tánaiste didn't act on an email two years ago, despite the email making clear she had no business acting on it and subsequently we have set up a full tribunal to establish the facts. They don't want to wait for due process, instead they want to take a political opportunity to damage the Tánaiste and the government in a time when it is not in the national interest to do so."

Minister Coveney, who was involved in drafting the confidence and supply agreement, said he doesn't see how the government can function if the motion of no confidence is lodged.

"You can't have the main opposition deciding who should be a minister and who shouldn't and have a credible government," he said.

"Fianna Fáil are saying she should have acted on an email two years ago despite being told clearly she should not. She has since got advice from the Attorney General that backs this up."

However, Fianna Fáil is adamant that Mrs Fitzgerald should resign in the national interest so as to avoid an election. If the Dáil is dissolved in the coming days it is likely that a general election would be called at some point between December 15 and 23.

Mr Varadkar is due in Brussels on December 14 for a pivotal Brexit meeting to decide the future of the Northern Ireland Border. And if the Government collapses, tax cuts and social welfare hikes announced as part of last month’s Budget are unlikely to be passed in time for January.

There were cheers from Fianna Fáil TDs in the Dáil bar as their justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan appeared on RTÉ’s ‘Six One’ news to announce: “She should go.”

Asked whether his party was prepared for an election, he said if Mrs Fitzgerald refused to step aside then “so be it”.

A series of emergency meetings took place in Government Buildings after Mr O’Callaghan’s appearance on television during which Mr Varadkar indicated he will fight an election if Fianna Fáil do not back down.

A spokesperson for the Independent Alliance members of Government said they still retain confidence in Mrs Fitzgerald. The chain of events was sparked by Sinn Féin’s decision to place a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste for next Wednesday.

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