When Charles Haughey was elected Taoiseach by the Dáil in 1979, Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald said in a speech immediately afterwards that the new leader had a “flawed pedigree”. It was widely believed to be a reference to the 1970 gun trial, when Haughey was tried but acquitted of conspiracy to import guns into the state.
he older generation of Fianna Fáilers have never forgotten or forgiven the disdainful label imposed on their new leader all those years ago. For them, it spoke of the moral stance of the other party, the one that has always dressed up as a defender of law and order.
Now the boot is slightly on the other foot – albeit the admitted leak of a confidential cabinet document from Fine Gael leaders and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to a friend does not amount to an alleged conspiracy to smuggle arms to the IRA for use in Northern Ireland.
But if the situation fades in terms of seriousness – and charges have not yet been brought against Mr Varadkar, with the DPP yet to decide whether charges will ever be brought – there are at least political comparisons.
Haughey and Neil Blaney were fired from Cabinet by Jack Lynch when the allegations first hung over them. The charges against Blaney were later dropped, but the damage had been done to his political career and the former Agriculture Secretary was expelled from Fianna Fáil.
Now Mr Varadkar must fight to contain the fallout from the news that a file has gone to the DPP at the end of a Garda inquiry into whether he may have breached the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offenses) Act 2018.
That’s what Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said yesterday Irish Independent that the Tánaiste can become Taoiseach again in December, under the rotating Taoiseach agreement reached by coalition leaders, despite a possible criminal charge against Mr Varadkar.
He said he’s expecting them
The matter will be “resolved before December,” adding: “So I don’t expect it to become an issue then.” Mr Ryan’s statement of support for the Tánaiste comes as Mr Varadkar’s own camp believes the DPP is within weeks will make a decision.
Meanwhile I spoke yesterday in Cork, Michael Martinwho is to step aside as the Taoiseach to make room for Mr Varadkar, declined to be informed if the move could be affected by the criminal investigation.
“Due process is important for every person in the country, regardless of whether you are a politician,” he said.
The Tánaiste always expected it to come to this, but he hopes and believes it won’t go further.
For the DPP, however, it must be seen that the law applies to all citizens equally, without fear or favoritism – once there are leads, charges could be brought against the evidence presented.
Mr Varadkar has already weathered the political process on the matter, set in a Dáil motion of confidence in late 2020.
The opposition tried to portray the leak (Mr Varadkar admitted the fact) as naked cronyism, but government TDs didn’t believe it and held the line. Now, however, public trust is involved – both in the DPP and the administration of justice, as well as in Mr Varadkar.
If there is no indictment, certain opposition figures will still make hay of it. There will be dog whistles for those who indulge in the idea of a golden circle governing all affairs of state. But it won’t prevent Mr Varadkar’s promotion.
If, on the other hand, a criminal charge were to be preferred, the situation would become far more politically dangerous. A formal charge would hang over the leader of a major political party, itself unprecedented in Ireland.
As the situation continues it remains embarrassing for Fine Gael and Mr Varadkar with the potential for it to get a lot worse. Ultimately, it could all come down to the verdict of opinion polls and the voting strength of Fine Gael’s backbenchers.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/court-of-public-opinion-may-be-the-ultimate-arbiter-if-varadkar-leak-is-still-trickling-in-december-41584118.html The court of public opinion could be the ultimate arbiter if the Varadkar leak is still trickling in December