At a time when the country can least afford a general election, Leo Varadkar has made a decision of potentially disastrous consequences – a decision that will inevitably result in the country going to the polls in the Spring or, in the worst case scenario, before Christmas. There is, at this stage, no other conceivable outcome.
The saga of the Gda. Sergeant Maurice McCabe email (copy below) is well known and documented elsewhere, suffice to say here that it boggles the mind as to how an email containing such damning content could be forgotten or, at the very least, not acted upon. Frances Fitzgerald read the email and did nothing, a despicable act in and of itself – given the illegal machinations that were being put in place in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of a brave member of An Garda Siochana. Claims that her position rendered her powerless to intervene are wholly disingenuous. She could have picked up the phone and called someone in a better position to act. The Attorney General for example!
Faced with a Sinn Féin-initiated vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Tánaiste (and the potential of a similar move from Fianna Fáil this morning), an emergency meeting of Fine Gael TDs last night resulted in the party deciding to support their colleague. Amid all the chaos and confusion, a clear strategy appears to have been put in place and it reeks of self preservation from the Taoiseach and his colleagues.
One wonders if a head-to-head meeting with former Cope Director John Concannon (Varadkar’s PR advisor) might have taken place in a locked room before the emergency conflagration began. A meeting in which Concannon advised Varadkar of the absolute requirement to emerge from this whole sorry debacle smelling of roses. A meeting which concluded that the best option was to play the loyalty card?
Uppermost in the Taoiseach’s mind for the last number of weeks has been an impending general election – an election that will likely see his party decimated, in favour of a strategically transigent Fianna Fáil. Varadkar cannot be seen to be throwing Frances Fitzgerald under the proverbial bus unless he is willing and able to counter the inevitable accusations of disloyalty when he faces the electorate. The loyalty card is an amateur play – explained only by a naive Taoiseach still in the process of trying to plant his leadership feet on terra firma. The problem is that the ground upon which he stands is not that solid. It is winter and there is ice underfoot.
Fianna Fail were left with no option this morning but to follow through on Justice Spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan’s threat last night in the Dáil to table their own ‘no confidence’ motion. The motion was put this morning and was almost immediately followed by a statement from Micheál Martin to the effect that the motion could be withdrawn if Frances Fitzgerald resigned. It’s a political move right out of the bottom drawer but one which leads us to an inevitable conclusion.
Regardless of whether the Tánaiste resigns now we are heading for a general election – the timing of which is still up in the air. If she does resign, the pressure point will be that her party knowingly supported her wrongdoing and they are all, as a single but collective unit, unfit for office. If she doesn’t, a motion of no confidence will be passed in the Dáil next Tuesday and Varadkar’s government will have no option but to consider dissolution.
As Simon Coveney correctly pointed out this morning, there is much important work to be done. There is a Social Welfare Bill that needs to be passed. There is the divisive issue of the 8th Amendment referendum scheduled for early summer next year, the committee for which is currently working hard to establish the terms of the referendum. Much work to be done that will face inevitable delays should a general election redefine the priorities of every politician hoping to gain or regain a seat in the next Dáil.
At a time when the country can least afford a general election, Leo Varadkar has made a decision that his party will have plenty of time to regret. As the out-going Taoiseach, he is virtually guaranteed to be re-elected to the Dáil but, in his short time at the head of the Fine Gael party, it is now clear – his attempts to develop his public image, in deference to the overall good, have resulted in his failure to captain the ship. He has steered his party straight towards the ice-berg and the reverse engines are well and truly banjaxed!