November 24, 2017
Irish snap elections in January?
The allegations against the Irish deputy PM Frances Fitzgerald may mark the beginning of the end of the Irish government. And this in the midst of complicated diplomatic manoeuvres over Northern Ireland in the Brexit talks. We often argue that minority governments are surprisingly stable. But this relates to governments that are supported by small or regional groups, as is the case in the UK and Portugal. Ireland's minority government is backed by the other main opposition party, Fianna Fail, it is thus more comparable to an indirect grand coalition.
The mood between the two main parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has clearly soured, and the former's good will in support for a minority government has evaporated in no time. Leo Varadkar raised the stakes last night when he rejected calls by opposition MPs that he remove Fitzgerald from the government, amid allegations that she was aware of a smear campaign to discredit whistle-blowing police sergeant Maurice McCabe. Fitzgerald gave a passionate defence, saying that she could not have interfered in a legal procedure. To no avail, Fianna Fail MPs still want to see her gone.
Fianna Fáil had confirmed earlier that the party would support a no-confidence motion against Fitzgerald. Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the party holds the unambiguous view that Fitzgerald must go and, if general elections are the result, so be it. The party's leader Micheál Martin has yet to speak, but the mood in the party is confrontational and some MPs already warn that he would lose support within his party if he were to back the government on this.
The Irish Times has learned that the Fine Gael executive council will meet next week, and party officials are preparing to have the organisation election-ready for mid-January. Some suggested to hold snap elections already in December, but this would interfere with the EU summit on December 15th. Another fine mess.