DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar “is doing everything he can” to avoid a snap general election, his spokesman said, but the crisis that has brought his minority government to the brink showed no obvious sign of resolution on Sunday.
Varadkar has two days to end the standoff with the party propping up his government before it submits a motion of no confidence in his deputy prime minister, a move that Varadkar says will force him to call a snap election before Christmas.
The crisis has erupted less than three weeks before a summit on Britain’s plans to leave the European Union, where Ireland will play a major role in deciding whether the negotiations can move onto the next phase.
Talks between Varadkar and Micheal Martin, the leader of the main opposition party, Fianna Fail, will continue on Sunday ahead of Martin bringing the motion of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald before parliament on Tuesday.
“The Taoiseach (prime minister) is doing everything he can to avoid an election, and hopes it will be possible to reach agreement with Micheal Martin,” Varadkar’s spokesman said in a statement on Sunday.
The spokesman added that there was no question of Fitzgerald being asked to resign over her handling of a legal case involving a police whistleblower. Fianna Fail say this is the only way to avoid an election.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that the leaders agreed the outline of a deal that would allow an ongoing judge-led tribunal to investigate the issue but that sources in Varadkar’s Fine Gael party said an election was unavoidable if Fianna Fail continuned to call for Fitzgerald to step down.
Varadkar is due to play a major role in the Dec. 14-15 EU summit on Brexit, telling fellow leaders whether Dublin believes sufficient progress has been made on the future border between EU-member Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland.
The government has said enough progress has not been made to date and Ireland’s EU Commissioner Phil Hogan said on Sunday that Dublin would “continue to play tough” over its threat to veto talks.
The border is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly resolved before it decides whether to move the talks on to a second phase about trade and EU officials have said a snap election in Ireland would complicate that task.
Bosses at a number of Ireland’s top companies were quoted by the Sunday Business Post as telling the parties to step back from the brink.
“This thing of bringing the country to a standstill at a critical time is just unacceptable,” Dalata Hotel Group chief executive Pat McCann told the newspaper.
Politicans say they also know there is no appetite among voters for an election just 18 months after the last one and an opinion poll on Saturday suggested there would be little change with another minority administration the most likely outcome.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle