DUBLIN – Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzergerald, who came under fire over the mishandling of a scandal involving a police whistleblower, will step down on Tuesday, thus thwarting a motion of no confidence against her that could have toppled the fragile coalition government and triggered a snap election.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is said to have accepted Fitzergerald’s resignation just hours before members of Ireland’s lower chamber, the Dáil, were due to vote on the no-confidence motion tabled by centrist Fianna Fáil, which props up the conservative Fine Gael government.
Fitzgerald found herself engulfed by a scandal stemming from accusations she had ignored warnings that a smear campaign had been launched against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe of the Garda (Irish police) whom she had defended during her time as justice and equality minister between 2014-16.
McCabe had highlighted issues relating to corruption in the Garda.
Varadkar, Ireland’s youngest ever Taoiseach at just 38, had until 8 pm on Tuesday to find a solution to the deepening crisis in Dublin or face the prospect of a repeat general election in December at a time when a strong government is needed ahead of looming challenges such as Brexit.
Fianna Fáil initially entered a supply and confidence deal with Fine Gael on the understanding that they would refrain from no-confidence motions to kick-start a functioning executive in the national interest.
Fine Gael bemoaned the no-confidence plot against Fitzgerald as political opportunism that threatened national stability at a crucial time.
The Republic of Ireland, a European Union member, shares the island of Ireland with Northern Ireland, a United Kingdom territory that is to withdraw from the EU come March 29, 2019.
The frontier that divides Ireland from Northern Ireland is currently open to free-flowing trade and workers due to both region’s mutual membership of the single market and customs union.
How to retain a so-called soft border has become a thorny issue in the ongoing first round of Brexit negotiations.
Furthermore, an open border area free of security checks is symbolic of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought about a cessation of hostilities in the Northern Irish conflict commonly known as the Troubles.