Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has resigned from Government in the “national interest”, hours ahead of a no-confidence motion in the Dáil threatened to bring down the Government.Ms Fitzgerald told a Cabinet meeting today, Tuesday she would be “vindicated” by the Disclosures Tribunal, which is examining allegations of the smear campaign against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
The Tánaiste said she was resigning in the national interest and to avoid a general election.The Irish Times
reports that the Attorney General gave a presentation to the Cabinet today insisting it would be “inappropriate and improper” for Ms Fitzgerald to have intervened when she received the emails in 2015.
Mr Varadkar accepted her resignation at the end of the Cabinet meeting. It is understood Mr Varadkar asked Ms Fitzgerald on Monday night to consider her position.Mr Varadkar has phoned Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to inform him of the news. Mr Martin had a frontbench meeting this morning.
Fine Gael sources said the resignation of Ms Fitzgerald has handed the Fianna Fáil leader a “significant win” and has damaged the Taoiseach.
Speaking at his frontbench meeting after the resignation was confirmed, Mr Martin thanked his party for their patience over a difficult few days.
He said the focus now needed to be on Brexit and supporting the Government’s stance during the talks scheduled for mid-December.
However, even if the immediate threat of an election has been removed, the crisis has significantly weakened the Government and damaged trust between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which supports the minority Government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement.
The Tánaiste had insisted she was unaware of a legal strategy by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in 2015 to question the integrity and credibility of Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission, which was examining allegations of Garda malpractice.
It has now emerged she received three emails on two separate dates advising her of the approach by Ms O’Sullivan.
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin had been seeking the Tánaiste’s resignation, and both tabled motions of no confidence in her, the first of which was due to have been heard at 8pm on Tuesday.
During the crisis Mr Varadkar stood by Ms Fitzgerald and offered her his full support.
However, Fine Gael TDs and Ministers questioned Mr Varadkar’s confidence in Ms Fitzgerald in recent days as more details emerged.
Fine Gael Ministers reacted with fury on Monday night when it emerged Ms Fitzgerald had received three emails on two separate dates notifying her of the legal strategy pursued by Ms O’Sullivan against Sgt McCabe.
The Department of Justice emails show Ms Fitzgerald was repeatedly told in 2015 about an “aggressive” approach to undermine Sgt McCabe at the O’Higgins commission.
In two separate emails on July 4th, 2015, the Tánaiste was advised of media queries about the “aggressive” approach being adopted by the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and advised how to respond if the media ask her about the matter. It was a senior Department of Justice official who described the approach as “aggressive”.The emails reveal that a senior official suggested to Ms Fitzgerald that she should say that it would be “very unfair to Sgt McCabe” if she was to respond to queries about the commission.
This release of emails about the controversy undermined efforts to defuse the row between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the Tánaiste.
Earlier today, Independent Alliance members of Cabinet said they would be seeking “political accountability” from Ms Fitzgerald.
Speaking on his way into Cabinet Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the situation was “very grave”, while his colleague Minister of State Finian McGrath said they would make their views known to Mr Varadkar.
It is unclear if the resignation of Ms Fitzgerald will address all of these concerns.
The Tánaiste last night tweeted she could not interfere in the O’Higgins commission and that she looked forward “to giving my evidence” in January to the Charleton tribunal, which is now looking into an alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblowers.
There had been no appetite from within Fine Gael for a general election on this matter, as they feared they would face an intense backlash from voters.