Dublin: Early General Election Date Looms – But Cowen Is Not Expected To Run Again

24 Jan

STEPHEN COLLINS, Political Editor: THE IRISH TIMES:

THE DATE of the general election will be brought forward following the decision of the Green Party to pull out of Government. The election is now likely to take place on February 25th if the Government and the main Opposition parties can agree on a timetable to pass the Finance Bill in the next week to 10 days.

Minster for Finance Brian Lenihan has invited the Greens and the Opposition parties to meet him this afternoon to discuss how the Finance Bill can be passed before the election.

Fine Gael and Labour want a commitment that the Bill will be passed by next Friday, but Mr Lenihan has suggested that it will not be possible to get it through the Dáil until the following Wednesday.

The Opposition parties are still threatening to move motions of no confidence in the Taoiseach and the Government if they are not satisfied with the timetable for the Finance Bill and the general election.

The decision of the Greens to pull out of Coalition followed the announcement by Taoiseach Brian Cowen on Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fáil.

Mr Cowen said he made the decision based on his own assessment of the implications for him and his party of his failed attempt to reshuffle the Cabinet last Thursday.

He said he had spoken to his wife, Mary, and family before making the decision, adding that he had not been in touch with any senior member of the party about the issue.

In a short statement, Mr Cowen said he knew the membership of Fianna Fáil through the breadth of Ireland was concerned about the party’s prospects in the election.

“I share those concerns. I want the party in the best possible position to fight that election,” he said.

Yesterday Green Party leader John Gormley announced his party was leaving the Coalition with immediate effect because the patience of its members with their Fianna Fáil partners had reached an end.

The withdrawal of the two Green Ministers from Government means that there are now just seven members of the Cabinet left in office.

Seven is the minimum number of Ministers laid down by the Constitution, while 15 is the norm.

Mr Cowen last night said the resignations of Mr Gormley and Éamon Ryan had been accepted by the President. Mr Cowen assigned the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to Éamon Ó Cuív and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to Pat Carey.

Mr Gormley said while the Green Party was pulling out of Coalition, his party would support the passage of the Finance Bill through the Dáil.

He said the Greens believed it was possible that the Bill could be completed quickly before an election was called, although he accepted that it might not be possible to meet the Friday deadline set by Fine Gael and Labour.

Mr Gormley revealed that his party colleague Mr Ryan had made contact with Fine Gael on Saturday to test the waters about whether the Opposition would be prepared to co-operate with passing the Finance Bill if the Greens withdrew from Government.

Mr Gormley said the Greens would now support a “severely truncated” Finance Bill from the Opposition benches. He said the decision to leave Government had come after a series of problems between the Coalition partners, including the failure of Fianna Fáil to inform the Greens of important political developments and the “ongoing saga” surrounding the larger party’s leadership.

“Our patience has reached an end,” Mr Gormley said.

Fine Gael’s finance spokesman Michael Noonan said his party was willing to get the Finance Bill passed, but insisted that it would have to be done by Friday.

He said an assurance about the date of the election was tied in with the passage of the Finance Bill.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said he would not proceed with its motion of no confidence in the Government provided there was an unequivocal commitment that the Finance Bill would be enacted and the Dáil dissolved by Friday.

Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy- Rae, who have supported the Government since 2007, said in a statement last night that an early election was now essential.

“Our votes on the Finance Bill are not guaranteed,” Mr Lowry said in a statement. He urged the Opposition parties, in their meetings with Mr Lenihan, to not alone discuss the time scale involved but to negotiate any amendments required by the Opposition which would allow them to vote for the Bill and facilitate its enactment.

Wicklow Independent Joe Behan said yesterday he would vote for the Finance Bill, but he would not vote confidence in the Government.

FROM THE – IRISH EXAMINER: NEWS UPDATE:

SHOWDOWN talks will take place today as opposition parties bid to force a hobbled Government to pass its final law by Friday and trigger an immediate general election campaign.

The Government reluctantly conceded to the talks on the Finance Bill after the Greens ended weeks of procrastination by pulling out of coalition yesterday.

It left Taoiseach Brian Cowen leading a minority Fianna Fáil administration with just the bare minimum of ministers — seven — permitted by the Constitution.

Mr Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan want more time to pass the Finance Bill, but are now at odds with the opposition who have demanded the bill be passed by Friday and the election called immediately after.

Cross-party consensus became necessary after the Green Party decided to walk, blaming a lack of trust and communication with their Government partners.

The coalition reached breaking point after Mr Cowen resigned as party leader on Saturday, but insisted he would stay on as Taoiseach.

Green leader John Gormley said his party would spend the last days of the 30th Dáil on the opposition benches, but would fulfil its promise to support the Finance Bill as long as it was fast-tracked.

The resignation of Mr Gormley from his ministry, along with his colleague Eamon Ryan, has left just seven Fianna Fáil members in Cabinet to complete the Government’s work while they simultaneously deal with a divisive internal leadership battle.

Both Éamon Ó Cuív and Pat Carey are each now responsible for three separate departments after they were assigned the responsibilities of Environment and Communications respectively.

Piling on the pressure, Fine Gael and the Labour Party demanded the Finance Bill be accelerated and passed by Friday.

Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan said this was impossible, but had little option but to concede to talks on the issue.

Mr Lenihan will meet with finance spokespersons from the opposition at 4pm today where he will argue for the Government to be given until the beginning of February to steer the law through the Oireachtas.

Mr Cowen said the Friday ultimatum set by Fine Gael and Labour was “not realistic”. “It is not possible to deal with within a week,” he said.

But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the Government had passed more complex legislation in a day when it needed to.

He said his party would only withdraw its scheduled no-confidence motion in the Government if Mr Cowen dissolved the Dáil in five days. “Friday is our deadline,” he insisted.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan said the bill could be rushed through and should not be delayed to facilitate the election of a new Fianna Fáil leader.

The leadership ballot will take place on Wednesday afternoon at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.

The declared candidates are Mr Lenihan, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin, Social Protection Minister Éamon Ó Cuív and recently resigned Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin. Other TDs have until 1pm today to lodge their nominations. The bulk of public declarations of support have so far favoured Mr Martin.
Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/greens-walk-143064.html#ixzz1BvTTeAcm

NEWS UPDATE: FROM THE IRISH INDEPENDENT:

AN early general election is on the cards after the Green Party dramatically pulled out of government yesterday.

In the Fianna Fail leadership race , three out of five TDs had yet to publicly declare who they were backing, although Micheal Martin remained the clear front-runner.

Cross-party talks involving Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Fein and the Greens will begin today to find a way to get the law needed to implement the Budget passed quickly.

The opposition is offering to facilitate the debate, but is not promising to vote for it.

But if Finance Minister Brian Lenihan cannot guarantee the Finance Bill will be passed by the end of this week, Fine Gael and Labour are threatening to push motions of no confidence, which Brian Cowen‘s minority Government cannot win.

Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan both claimed last night that the legislation could not be passed in just one week, as it was too complex.

The Government and opposition parties insist the bill is a central plank of the IMF/EU bailout secured in November. And there are concerns that any uncertainty about its future will unnerve both international investors, the EU and IMF.

Independent TDs Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry warned last night that their support for the Finance Bill was “not guaranteed”.

Both voted in favour of almost every government measure in the past four years, including budgets.

Green Party ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan resigned from Cabinet yesterday as the junior coalition partners announced they would be moving to the opposition benches.

The Greens’ departure leaves just seven ministers in Cabinet — the bare minimum required by the Constitution.

Mr Gormley said the party would still vote for the Finance Bill.

“Our patience has reached an end. Because of these continuing doubts, the lack of communication and the breakdown in trust, we have decided that we can no longer continue in government,” he said.

Even if the Government succeeds in pushing the passing of the Finance Bill into next week, the general election will still be earlier than the March 11 date named by the Taoiseach just last week.

March 4, February 25 and even February 18 were last night being mooted as new dates.

Mr Cowen insisted his decision to resign as Fianna Fail leader was his own and that he was not told to go by senior party figures.

Running parallel to the talks on the Finance Bill is the Fianna Fail leadership contest.

Based on public declarations from Fianna Fail TDs, former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin is ahead of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin and Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv.

But only 29 out of the 71 TDs in Fianna Fail have publicly said who they are backing.

 A Tally:

A tally of votes by the Irish Independent shows 18 TDs behind Mr Martin, four backing Mr Lenihan, three supporting Ms Hanafin and four for Mr O Cuiv.

The remaining 42 TDs did not return calls or refused to publicly state who they would back in Wednesday’s vote.

Mr Martin says a majority of the party’s TDs have told him they will vote for him.

Mr Lenihan said he was the main challenger to Mr Martin.

Ms Hanafin said she wanted to ensure there were not just four men running.

Mr O Cuiv said he wanted the party to get back to basics.

Whoever wins the leadership contest will be facing into a general election campaign in their first week in the job.

There are fears within the party that it will be “almost impossible” for their new leader to make an impression on the public, given the short time available before polling day.

But former Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said the changeover would not come too late to boost Fianna Fail’s prospects and “could make a difference”.

Mr Cowen’s resignation as party leader triggered a series of dramatic events over the weekend. Last night, the Taoiseach assigned Mr Gormley’s role as Environment Minister to Mr O Cuiv and Mr Ryan’s jobs as Energy Minister to Pat Carey.

Mr O Cuiv and Mr Carey now have three portfolios each.

– Fionnan Sheahan, Aine Kerr and Fiach Kelly

Irish Independent

A time for reckoning | 24/01/2011

Martin the front-runner in FF leadership race

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