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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

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

Simon Coveney, the foreign minister, says it's an election Ireland doesn't need REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Simon Coveney, the foreign minister, says it's an election Ireland doesn't need REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Ireland’s government is on the brink of collapse with crucial discussions over 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 has faced calls to quit over her role in a policing scandal.

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

If Fianna Fail presses ahead with a motion of no-confidence 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 interests.”

The impact of Brexit is likely to be most keenly felt by Ireland of the remaining 27 EU member states as it is the only one that shares a land border with Britain. The respective governments are also joint guarantors of a peace deal struck in 1998 that ended three decades of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles.

The two economies are closely integrated and the 310-mile border currently allows for free movement of people and goods. Attempts to control that flow are likely to 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 that 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 has 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 key decisions about the border are set to be made.

Frances Fitzgerald is accused of trying to discredit a whistleblower during an inquiry into his claims of policing malpractice. She has denied the claims.