Irish deputy PM agrees to resign, easing election threat

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[November 28, 2017]  By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's scandal-hit deputy prime minister resigned on Tuesday in a move that is likely to avert a government collapse and snap election that could have threatened crucial Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

A government source confirmed reports that Frances Fitzgerald would step down, as demanded by opposition parties after the release of fresh documents about her disputed handling of a police whistleblower who alleged corruption in the force.

Fianna Fail, the main opposition party that props up Fine Gael Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's minority government, said her resignation should mean a December election would be avoided. It had warned it might force a snap poll if Fitzgerald refused to quit.

Ireland's political crisis emerged in the run-up to a key Brexit summit next month at which Varadkar is set to play a major role. He must tell fellow EU leaders whether he believes sufficient progress has been made on the future of the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

The border -- the only land frontier between Britain and the EU -- is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly resolved before it decides whether to move talks on Britain's divorce from the EU onto a second phase about trade, as Britain wants.

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Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland (Tanaiste) Frances Fitzgerald speaks to the media at Government buildings in Dublin, Ireland, May 8, 2014. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

While Varadkar has likely avoided the prospect of having to travel to Brussels in a caretaker capacity, his handling of the crisis has badly damaged his governing Fine Gael party and relations with its Fianna Fail opponents.

Members of the opposition Labour and Sinn Fein parties said as Fitzgerald resigned that an election was still likely to follow in the next three or four months.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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