Varadkar government faces collapse as tensions in Ireland rise
HE WAS swept to power on a wave of optimism as Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister and a potent symbol of social changes coursing through the Catholic country.
But after barely six months, Leo Varadkar is facing the collapse of his government as a domestic political crisis and Anglo-Irish tensions reached breaking point this week.
The 38-year-old Taoiseach could be forced to call a snap election after a noconfidence motion was tabled against Frances Fitzgerald, his deputy.
Ms Fitzgerald is accused of mishandling a police corruption investigation in a motion supported by the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil.
The move is controversial as Fianna Fáil is propping up Mr Varadkar’s fragile Fine Gael party in a confidence and supply deal. It had agreed to abstain on no confidence votes against ministers.
Experts warn that the political turmoil could severely weaken Mr Varadkar’s hand in the Brexit negotiations and distract him from preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Earlier this month, he threatened to veto trade talks between the EU and the UK unless Theresa May gave a written guarantee that would amount to keeping Northern Ireland under EU regulations. This would force Mrs May to cross a red line, as she has pledged that the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union as a whole.
Though the no confidence vote risks bringing down his government, Mr Varadkar has come out fighting and offered his full support to Ms Fitzgerald, who, according to senior officials, will not be allowed to stand down even if she offers her resignation.
This bullish rhetoric has won him plaudits, but critics warn that the same uncompromising style is starting to force the Taoiseach into a corner.
“He’s got into very strong rhetoric on Brexit, but now there doesn’t seem to be any way out,” Ray Bassett, a former ambassador, told The Sunday Telegraph.
But John Garry, a professor in political behaviour at Queen’s University Belfast, predicted Fianna Fáil’s move could backfire. “Leo and Micheal Martin [leader of Fianna Fáil] are practicing the art of not blinking. Martin may well regret pushing this issue to the brink if voters’ are distracted from their Christmas shopping by canvassing politicians,” he said.