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General election looking more likely by the minute as Fine Gael digs in to support Tánaiste

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are both tabling motions of no confidence against Frances Fitzgerald.

Update 10.07 pm

0664 Prevent Trafficking_90504633 Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said she has done nothing wrong and her colleagues are supporting her. Source: RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and Fine Gael’s senior ministers are rallying around to support Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald as she comes under increasing pressure to resign.

Sinn Féin followed through with its threat to table a motion of no confidence in Fitzgerald earlier today and this evening Fianna Fáil confirmed it will do the same.

The developments follow the crisis in the Department of Justice over an email sent to Fitzgerald about Maurice McCabe during her time as justice minister.

A Fine Gael parliamentary party took place this evening at 10pm at which Varadkar and his colleagues gave enthusiastic support to Fitzgerald.

A unanimous motion in support of the Tánaiste was passed at the meeting with Varadkar saying she was facing “ a trumped up charge from the opposition”.

In a statement following the meeting, chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Martin Heyden said it was also agreed that the party did not want a general election.

” Hey“What we have seen from both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil today is a political stunt, pure and simple. We will not allow the opposition bully us,” Heyden said.

Ministers Simon Coveney, Eoghan Murphy and Michael Ring all also said this evening that the party stands behind Fitzgerald.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne confirmed that his party will be submitting a similar no confidence motion in the Tánaiste.

That motion is expected to be submitted in the morning and a debate on it could take place next Wednesday.

Fianna Fáil’s decision to submit a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste could prove to be a fatal blow to the party’s confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael which facilitates Leo Varadkar’s minority government.

Fianna Fáil’s motion was all but confirmed after Jim O’Callaghan, the party’s justice spokesperson, said on RTÉ’s Six One news that the party would not vote confidence in the Tánaiste next week.

O’Callaghan said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had already indicated to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he did not have confidence in the Tánaiste.

O’Callaghan repeated several times that his party couldn’t support a confidence motion in Fitzgerald, and when asked directly said he believed she should step down as minister.

Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael means that, if they want the government to remain in power, Micheál Martin’s party must support ministers or abstain from the vote in the event of a motion of confidence.

After going to the brink on support for the government over then-Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s position earlier this year, Martin has been under pressure from his backbenchers to further ratchet up the pressure this time around.

Why are people talking about an election? 

Should the confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael become effectively dead, it’s possible it could continue long enough to pass the Finance Bill which gives effect to the budget.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is also scheduled to deliver its report before Christmas.

Should the Dáil be dissolved, an election would have to be held within 18 to 25 days. The timing of such an election so close to Christmas has prompted concern.

Asked about that prospect on Six One, O’Callaghan responded:

We do not see it as an issue of going to the country but  if the consequence is that there’s going to be a general election that has to be it – but we believe there is still time to try and resolve this matter and we will make the efforts.

In the Fine Gael statement issued after the parliamentary party meeting, Heyden said that Fine Gael did not want an election.

“The government has a lot of work ahead on which it needs to focus. Several bills have yet to pass through the Oireachtas including; the Finance Bill, the FEMPI Bill and the Social Welfare Bill.”

“There is a major Brexit Summit scheduled for next month. Brexit is one of the biggest challenges facing the country in decades and Fine Gael is firmly focussed on this process.”

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy

Read: ‘It’s not enough to say she can’t remember’: Frances Fitzgerald under pressure in McCabe email row

More: Frances Fitzgerald sends TDs email at centre of Maurice McCabe row

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