'Extraordinary development': Fianna Fáil examining Justice Department documents in new attempt to avoid election

Update 9.19pm: Fianna Fáil is set to examine Department of Justice documents tonight in a fresh attempt to avoid an election.

They were handed over this afternoon after Leo Varardkar and Micheál Martin met to discuss the crisis in Government.

The documents had been prepared on the back of a parliamentary question brought forward by Labour's Alan Kelly.

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin said it is an "extraordinary development".

Deputy Howlin said the documents must be provided to all the opposition parties if the Taoiseach wants to avoid further controversy.

"If there's anything germane to the Tribunal - obviously, we assume that they'd be provided to the Tribunal in the first instance," he said.

"But if they are germane to any of the questions raised by parliamentarians, Alan Kelly, myself or others in the Dáil, they should be put on the record of the Dáil and provided to all of us, all of the parties in opposition and indeed all the members of the Dáil."

Update 6.01pm: A meeting between the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has finished for the day.

They have both reported a "good exchange of views" and agreed to keep in contact across the weekend to try and find a way to avoid a pre-Christmas General Election.

The impasse remains surrounding no-confidence motions tabled against the Tánaiste over her handling of the McCabe controversy.

Micheál Martin still says Frances Fitzgerald must go while the Taoiseach maintains she has done nothing wrong.

"I don't want there to be any ambiguity about this, there is no subtle message being sent out there to the Tanaiste that she should even consider resigning," Leo Varadkar said.

"I won't be seeking her resignation, I don't want her to offer it to me."

As more talks are expected tomorrow, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has called for votes of no confidence in the Tanaiste to be pushed back until the New Year.

The TD for Dublin Bay South, has been in touch with party leaders and feels the last thing the public want is a general election.

"I contacted both Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald yesterday and said: 'Without changing your tack or approach, put that motion of confidence back into the New Year - you don't have to pull it, just delay it'," he said.

"That would allow us to have an election - if that is what ends up - it means that this critical period of Christmas and the critical run-up to Brexit elections, we don't have an election. I think the Irish people don't want an election at Christmas," he added.

Update 3.49pm: The leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are meeting again to try to find a way to avoid a pre-Christmas General Election.

Leo Vardakar still says Frances Fitzgerald has done nothing wrong and will not ask for her resignation.

While Micheál Martin said his party has no confidence in the Justice Minister and she must go.

Both say they are willing to engage in discussions to resolve the situation and avert the collapse of the Government.

The Taoiseach says they fully support the Tanaiste despite two tabled motions of no confidence in her by the opposition.

Varadkar said she should not even consider quitting amid a furore that has brought his administration to the brink of collapse.

There has been speculation the Tanaiste may fall on her own sword to avert a general election.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted there to be no ambiguity over his public declarations of support for Ms Fitzgerald, who is under intense pressure over her handling of a 2015 email that revealed attempts to discredit a Garda whistleblower.

The Fine Gael leader rejected any suggestion he was privately hoping his party colleague would walk away to quell the crisis.

"I don't want there to be any ambiguity about this, there is no subtle message being sent out there to the Tanaiste that she should even consider resigning," he said.

"I won't be seeking her resignation, I don't want her to offer it to me."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has refused to budge on a motion of no confidence in the Tanaiste.

It is scheduled for next Tuesday and, if Fianna Fáil follows through with it, the confidence and supply agreement would be broken and the government would fall, forcing a pre-Christmas election.

The threat of an election has caused turmoil in government and political circles, with the biggest fear that it would be fought in the teeth of Brexit negotiations which could determine the future of the Irish border.

Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly said neither Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein or anyone else is looking for an election right now.

He said it is a time for cool heads and he is calling on the Tánaiste to resign:

"It is not anybody's interest to have an election right now. It is not in the country's interest to have an election right now. This is a very specific call - it is directed at Frances Fitzgerald," he said.

"The simple fact is the majority of TDs in Dáil Éireann do not have confidence in Frances Fitzgerald and our position is, based on very, very serious information that came into the public domain in the last ten days, that she should step back and our hope is that she will do so."

Attending an event in Dublin on Saturday focused on role models for young women, Mr Varadkar reiterated his view that Mrs Fitzgerald had done nothing wrong.

"I think there is a real injustice here in people calling for her to resign in these circumstances," he said.

"I don't want to see a good woman who I think has done enormous service in Irish public life, who has been a real asset to Irish politics, brought down in this way.

"I just don't think it would be fair, I don't think it would be right and I don't think the majority of the Irish people would like that to happen."

He added: "I am not willing to sacrifice a good person just so the government can continue its work in these circumstances."

Earlier, Mr Varadkar used his speech at the opening of the FemFest conference in the city's Liberty Hall to publicly signal his support for the embattled Tánaiste, hailing her as an "honourable and distinguished politician".

The crisis centres on Mrs Fitzgerald's knowledge of a legal strategy to be employed by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner that was designed to discredit whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe at a private inquiry into his allegations of bad policing.

The information was contained in an email sent to the Tánaiste by a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Justice in 2015. It also advised that legally she had no grounds to intervene.

The Taoiseach has said Mrs Fitzgerald had been advised not to intervene in the legal strategy. He said that has since been backed up by advice from the Attorney General.

The Tánaiste has faced days of allegations from opposition parties that she was aware of the campaign by lawyers for the Garda Commissioner and took no action.

She has said she cannot remember getting the email in 2015. It alerted her that "a serious criminal complaint", which had always been denied by Sgt McCabe, was raised at the inquiry.

Sinn Féin was first out of the blocks earlier this week with plans for a motion of no confidence, with Fianna Fáil then declaring its intention to follow suit.

On Saturday, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams made clear his party would press ahead with its motion, regardless of the outcome of the crisis talks between the Dail's two main parties.

"The only thing that will prevent this is the Tanaiste stepping down," Mr Adams said in Drogheda.

"This is nothing personal against Frances Fitzgerald. This is Sinn Fein doing our job - holding the government to account."

Update 12.22pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today that he is hopeful a resolution can be found in the current political impasse.

He insisted that he does not want Frances Fitzgerald to resign, and that the matter is before the Disclosures Tribunal.

"Certainly, if there is a way to avoid the Government falling and the Dáil collapsing and an election, I'm open to that," he said.

"But it can't involve the Tánaiste being forced to resign, because that would just be the wrong thing to do."

Update 12.22pm: The chair of Fine Gael’s National Executive has insisted that the party does not want a General Election.

The Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader are due to meet again, but unless a compromise can be found an election could happen in a matter of weeks.

"This is an emergency meeting of the Fine Gael Executive Council, convened to, I suppose, to prepare for a General Election," said Gerry O’Connell.

"None of us want a General Election, it's our hope that a General Election can be avoided at all cost.

"The Taoiseach's position, as he set out last night, [is that] he's not going to dismiss the Tánaiste, he's going to support her to the hilt, and we support his position.

"But we're preparing on the basis that the Dáil may be dissolved as early as Tuesday."

Earlier:

The Fine Gael National Executive Council is holding an emergency meeting this morning to discuss its strategy for a potential general election.

The council is meeting in the next hour at their Headquarters in Dublin.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin again today in a bid to break the impasse over the garda whistleblower controversy.

However, Fine Gael is conscious that it will need time and space to prepare for an election in the event that one is called.

Fianna Fáil has put down a motion of no confidence in Frances Fitzgerald over her handling of the Maurice McCabe controversy - but Leo Varadkar says he will not sack her.

It centres around an email that the Tánaiste received in May 2015 outlining the proposed legal strategy against the Garda Whistleblower at the O'Higgins Commission.

The Irish Examiner's Mick Clifford says the suggestion that she could not legally interfere in the proceedings is a distraction.

"There was nothing to stop her," he said.

"In fact you could argue that she had a duty to pick up the phone and ring the Garda Commissioner and say: Can you tell me why, is there a valid reason for this, what is it based on, just so I can understand it, just so I have polictical cover, even, if you want to put it that way, because I have met Maurice McCabe and he seems like an honourable man, can you tell me please what is going on?"


 

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