Irish Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald stepped down on November 28, avoiding a vote of no-confidence. Had the vote been successful, it would have triggered a snap election in Ireland just before the Brexit talks are set to begin.
Fitzgerald was caught-up in a scandal that has been a problem for her party, Fine Gael, for three years. In 2014, two whistleblowers reported that Irish police officials were wiping penalty points off the driver’s licenses of Fine Gael officials. Then, in February 2017, a smear campaign claiming the whistleblowers were accused of sex crimes was reported. Finally, in December it was revealed that Fitzgerald knew about this campaign.
As a result, officials from both inside and outside Fitzgerald’s party called for her resignation by November 28, threatening a vote of no-confidence. If the vote had occurred, the minority government of the Fine Gael party would have collapsed, and a snap election would have been necessary. This turmoil could have complicated the upcoming Brexit talks, as the issue of the Irish border with Britain still needs to be resolved.
Hours before the vote of no-confidence, Fitzgerald resigned, saying, “Throughout my career, I have always sought to act with integrity and responsibility, and that is why I have decided on this occasion to put the national interest ahead of my own personal reputation.” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar accepted her resignation with “deep regret,” saying, “there was a feeding frenzy, and it became impossible for her to get a fair hearing based on the full facts.”
On November 30, Varadkar named her replacement: Simon Coveney, the minister of foreign affairs. Preventing a snap election gives Ireland a more stable position going into the Brexit negotiations, where the border with Northern Ireland will be an important question.