The minority Irish government is set on the verge of collapse after the party propping it up called for a vote of no confidence in the deputy prime minister, Frances Fitzgerald, on November 24. The vote, set for November 28, potentially precipitates snap elections and destabilizes Ireland just weeks ahead of the critical European Union (EU) summit in mid-December.
The no-confidence motion was filed by Michael Martin, head of the opposition party Fianna Fail. The motion concerned how Fitzgerald, a member of the head Fine Gael party, handled a legal case against a police whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, when Fitzgerald was justice minister. The scandal focuses on an email from May 2015 about a strategy intended to discredit McCabe. The deputy leader of party Sinn Fein accused Fitzgerald of having “clearly failed in her duties” when she learned about a strategy, through this May 2015 email, that was “so utterly malicious and designed…to ruin Sgt McCabe’s life.”
So far, despite calls for Fitzgerald’s resignation, she has shown no sign she will do so. Although this could easily defuse the crisis, her Fine Gael party has defended and stood by Fitzgerald. However, the minority Fine Gael relies on the support of party Fianna Fail to govern. Currently, the parties seem to be at a deadlock.
Should the no-confidence measure pass next week, the untimely crisis has two major consequences, starting with potential snap elections in the upcoming months. But more pressing is the EU summit in Brussels, where Ireland is expected to play a major rule. A major issue of contention is the future of the border between Ireland, which will remain in the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain and therefore embroiled in the Brexit debate. There are currently no border or customs checkpoints between the two. The other two issues on the table are settling Britain’s financial obligations to the EU, and the status of EU citizens living in Britain.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney expressed the sentiment of many when he accused Fianna Fail of “behaving recklessly” at a time when the government needs to handle “really serious issues” for national interest and stability. He stated, “Ireland does not need an election right now.”