Tanaiste Coveney looms closer to weakened Varadkar


A near-death experience for the 26 County government has led to the appointment of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, as as the new Tanaiste [Deputy Prime Minister], replacing the disgraced Frances Fitzgerald following her resignation this week.

A game of chicken over a cover-up at the Department of Justice appears to have wrecked the reputation of both Fitzgerald and the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, whose refusal to to accept her resignation until the last minute provided the worst possible outcome for his party.

Although leader of a government critically dependent on the support of traditional arch-rivals Fianna Fail, Varadkar also appeared to lose the support of his own party, with senior Fine Gael figures briefing journalists against him.

The crisis began when Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin threatened to bring down the minority government over Fitzgerald’s handling of the police corruption scandal involving whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Martin’s hand had in turn been forced by a Sinn Fein no-confidence motion in Fitzgerald. His move to do the same effectively ended a confidence-and-supply agreement which underpinned the agreement with Fine Gael.

A staunch ally of Varadkar in the recent leadership race, Fitzgerald had defied mounting evidence that she had been party to a conspiracy at the Department of Justice to destroy Sgt McCabe’s reputation with a false claim of child abuse. It was confirmed that she was aware of the campaign of vile slander which the Garda police Commissioner was directing against Sgt McCabe, and did nothing.

Hours before she faced a motion of no confidence on Tuesday, Ms Fitzgerald resigned, saying she had put the national interest ahead of her political career by stepping down to avoid an “unwelcome and potentially destabilising” election.

Varadkar said that while he thought Flanagan’s departure was “wrong”, he accepted it with regret. Her resignation brought the country back from the brink of a snap election, but huge doubts linger over the sustainability of the current government.

The current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who took up the post in June, is also thought to have been aware of the conspiracy against Sgt McCabe, but is so far remaining in his post. However, evidence of the apparently criminal smear campaign by the Justice Department and Garda leadership forced Varadkar to admit the department was “dysfunctional”.

A heave within Fine Gael to replace Varadkar with former leadership challenger Simon Coveney now appears underway.

Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said the debacle had highlighted the poor judgement of the Taoiseach, who she said had failed the first real test of his leadership in spectacular fashion.

“At the centre of this shambles is the Taoiseach’s demonstrated incompetence and his resistance to accountability on matters of utmost importance,” she said. “His calamitous handling of this issue turned a scandal into a political crisis.”

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