IRISH Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accepted his deputy Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation yesterday in the interests of opposing Britain at Brexit talks.
Fine Gael party Tanaiste and Business Minister Ms Fitzgerald offered to fall on her sword yesterday morning, hours before a no-confidence vote called by Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail was set to go ahead that would have toppled the minority government.
The vote concerned allegations that Ms Fitzgerald knew of a 2015 smear campaign against garda (police) whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
She insisted that she had, in fact, defended Sgt McCabe but was quitting to avoid an “unwelcome and potentially destabilising” snap election.
Mr Varadkar told the Dail, the lower house of parliament: “It’s my strong view that a good woman is leaving office without getting a full and fair hearing.”
He said that Ms Fitzgerald’s exit had headed off “an unnecessary and early general election that could have left the country without a functioning government” and parliament “for several months at a crucial time for Ireland.
“Over the next few weeks and months, the government will need to focus on the Brexit negotiations — both phase one and phase two.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney threatened in Brussels last week to block phase-two talks set for next month if Britain did not give guarantees that there would be no “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the republic post-Brexit.
He hinted strongly that the North should stay in the EU single market while Britain leaves.
Mr Varadkar said that Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan would apologise over how parliamentary questions about the whistleblower affair were handled over the last month.
But Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the Taoiseach had failed “the first real test” of his leadership.
“He repeatedly misled the Dail and supported a minister who clearly failed in her duties,” she said.
“He stood by those who turned a blind eye to the smearing of Garda McCabe when he should have held them to account.”
Earlier, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson repeated her party’s call for special EU status for Northern Ireland, claiming that it was vital for the peace process.
“Our membership of the EU was key to securing the Good Friday Agreement,” she claimed, which “must be protected, with no diminution of citizens’ rights.”