Monday 19 August 2019

Simon Harris: 'The Tánaiste is absolutely not considering resigning... nor should she'

Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys

Mary McDonnell

Health Minister Simon Harris has said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is “absolutely not” considering resigning as the crisis over her handling of a policing scandal deepens.

The Government is hurtling towards a snap Christmas election after Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil tabled motions of no confidence in Ms Fitzgerald.

Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan has said the only way to avoid an election is if the Tánaiste resigns.

And Labour’s Alan Kelly, the party’s spokesman on jobs and enterprise, said Labour has “no confidence” in Government.

Speaking to Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1, Mr Harris said: “(She is) absolutely not (considering resigning), nor should she... it’s more about Fianna Fail trying to mark Sinn Féin than anything to do with the national interest.

“Why would you plunge the country into a General Election at such a precarious time for pure political reasons? When a judge – not (Sinn Fein’s) Mary Lou McDonald - will assess all of these issues.”

“They (Fianna Fáil) have breached the (confidence and supply) agreement. We make compromises all the time.

“But what we won’t do is compromise on basic standards of fairness. We won’t go for summary justice where we have some sort of kangaroo court deciding that the Tánaiste has done something which quite frankly she hasn’t.”

The controversy was sparked by revelations of an email Ms Fitzgerald received when she was Justice Minister in 2015. It raised questions about her knowledge of a legal strategy regarding Garda whistle-blower, Maurice McCabe.

Fianna Fáil leader, Michael Martin has called on the Tánaiste to step down but an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted he won’t seek her resignation.

Both parties are trying to avoid an election which Mr Harris said would be “really bad for the country”.

The Health Minister also added on the programme that as the Government scrambles to find a solution, they are “at risk of forgetting” the “devastating impact” this had on Sgt McCabe who, in 2007, raised concerns about senior gardai quashing penalty points.

He said: “It’s actually about Sgt McCabe and his wife Lorraine and their family and the way they have been treated by the State.

"The Taoiseach has made his views very clear on the way they have been treated.

“Political theatrics is not going to provide the answers and that’s the difficulty here.”

Speaking as part of a panel alongside Mr Harris, Fianna Fail’s Jim O’Callaghan insisted that the Tánaiste’s resignation is the only solution that will bring the Government back from the brink of an election.

He said: “Unfortunately, if a deal isn’t done and if the Tánaiste doesn’t stand aside, we are heading for a General Election.”

“Frances Fitzgerald is a decent woman,” he added. “She has achieved in the Department of Justice. I believe when she comes to reflect she has to stand aside or we’re having a general election, she’ll put the country first.”

He warned that the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil positions are “irreconcilable” but was adamant his party isn’t looking “for a head on a plate”.

He said: “I think we have two positions which are irreconcilable. My view is that it is unlikely that those positions are going to shift between now and next Tuesday. If that is the case, the only way we can prevent a general election is for the Tánaiste to consider her position.”

The Labour Party hasn’t tabled a no confidence motion in the Tánaiste but Alan Kelly said they would “consider” it.

He said: “The Labour Party has no confidence in this Government but the Labour Party always puts the country first. We need to be sensible as a group of politicians.”

Earlier in the programme, he said: “I expect there’s a lot more to this to come out. What is going on in the Department of Justice and where the hell is (Minister for Justice) Charlie Flanagan? Why aren’t we being given the full facts?”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the party will go ahead with a motion of no confidence next week, irrespective of Fianna Fail’s decision.

Speaking in Drogheda, he said: “The only thing that will prevent this is the Tanaiste stepping down. This is nothing personal against Frances Fitzgerald. This is Sinn Fein doing our job – holding the government to account.”

Earlier today, an Taoiseach said he is standing firmly by Ms Fitzgerald. He’s due to meet with Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin over the weekend to hold crisis talks before the Dail reconvenes on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at the National Women’s Council of Ireland #FemFest conference, Mr Varadkar said he believes the "majority of the Irish public" don’t want the Tanaiste to stand down.

He said: "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.”

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