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Ireland: on the verge of snap election over police scandal

A snap election could be called, after a party threatened to pull down the administration over a police whistleblower scandal

24 November 2017, 12:57pm
Prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is facing the prospect of going to the polls next month (Photo: Politico)
Prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is facing the prospect of going to the polls next month (Photo: Politico)
Ireland could call a snap election, after a party that props up with the coalition government has threatened to pull down the administration over a police whistleblower scandal.

The prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is facing the prospect of going to the polls next month, in the middle of a crucial summit on the EU, Britain and Brexit as stakes are high for the Irish republic.

The prospect of a Christmas general election surfaced over the last 24 hours, following a scandal involving emails from the deputy prime minister Frances Fitzgerald, into how police dealt with a whistleblower, who was alleging corruption and malpractice.

The scandal focused on an email from May 2015, which outlined how legal teams from Noirin O’Sullivan, the police commissioner at the time, and Maurice McCabe, a police officer and whistleblower, who clashed at an inquiry into the McCabe’s allegations of police malpractice.

The email spoke of a strategy, which McCabe’s supporters claim was drawn up by the police high command to discredit him.

When asked in an interview whether the only thing that could prevent a snap election was the resignation of Fitzgerald, senior Fianna Fail member Dara Calleary said “I think so.”

Fitzgerald claimed that she did not remember the email and in any event, she could not have legally intervened.

Her defenders in the ruling Fine Gael party said that there is a judicial inquiry into the handling of the way McCabe was treated and that should be allowed to run its course.

Fine Gael deputies in the Irish parliament on Thursday night appeared to rally round the deputy PM.

She also received the backing of Varadkar and his foreign minister, Simon Coveney.

Coveney said on Thursday that the judicial inquiry into the McCabe affair should be allowed to finish.

“We should allow that process to conclude these issues rather than trying to prejudge them now in a way that, I believe, to be unfair to Frances Fitzgerald,” he said.

On Friday morning Coveney said the last thing Ireland needs is a general election in the middle of crucial Brexit negotiations.

While Fine Gael parliamentarians passed a motion of support for Ftizgerald, the party relies on the goodwill of the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, to remain in power.

Fianna Fáil operates a policy similar to the Democratic Unionists at Westminster in a so-called “confidence and supply” strategy.

Like the DUP in London, Fianna Fáil in Dublin props up a minority government by backing it only in votes of no confidence in parliament.

Senior sources in Fianna Fáil said that “confidence and supply” strategy was “dead in the water” if Fine Gael continued to insist Fitzgerald remain in office.

Fianna Fáil will table a no confidence measure on Friday that could precipitate a general election either before Christmas or possibly early in the new year. It appears likely that mid-January may be the preferred time for a fresh election, Fianna Fáil sources said.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, accused the deputy PM of having “clearly failed in her duties” when she learned about a strategy that was “so utterly malicious and designed ... to ruin Sgt McCabe’s life”.

Varadkar’s predecessor, Enda Kenny, resigned in May this year, after coming under growing internal party pressure over his failure to secure a majority government in the general election in 2016 and his handling of the crises in the Irish police.