Irish government on brink of collapse over policing scandal

The crisis in the minority government comes amid crucial discussions over the future status of the border between Ireland and the UK after Brexit in 2019

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney  arrives to attend the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 24, 2017.    REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
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Ireland’s government is on the brink of collapse, with crucial discussions on the future status of its border with Brexit-bound Britain set to clash with campaigning for new national elections.

The country’s main parties are at loggerheads over the future of the country’s deputy prime minister who faced calls to quit over her role in a policing scandal. Frances Fitzgerald is accused of trying to discredit a whistle-blower during an inquiry into his claims of policing malpractice. She has denied the accusation.

The Fine Gael party – which heads a minority government – has backed Mrs Fitzgerald over the dispute but relies on the support of Fianna Fail, which has called for her to go.

If Fianna Fail presses ahead with no-confidence motion next week then “I don't see how we can have a government that can function," said Simon Coveney, the foreign minister.

"Ireland does not need an election right now,” he said, referring to Brexit. “The main opposition party... are risking an election at a time when there are some really, really serious issues for the government to manage in the national interest.”

Brexit is likely to be most keenly felt by Ireland, out of the remaining 27 EU member states, as it is the only one that shares a land border with the United Kingdom. Dublin and London are also joint guarantors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement struck in which ended three decades of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles.

The two economies are closely integrated and the 500km border currently allows for free movement of people and goods. Attempts to control that flow are will be among the most controversial aspects of the Brexit talks.


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Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019 but officials said progress had to be made on deciding the future status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and its northern neighbour, which is part of the UK, before talks could start on a comprehensive trade deal.

The political crisis could result in a winter election just as the Irish government warned of delaying the trade talks well into next year if the border situation is not resolved. Any election could clash with an EU summit in December when important decisions about the border are to be made.