Irish government in tatters as coalition partners pull out
DUBLIN — Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s government was in tatters Sunday after the junior coalition partners pulled out, in a move likely to spark elections even earlier than those planned for March 11.
Green Party leader John Gormley told a press conference in Dublin that “our patience has reached an end” after a week of political turmoil that resulted in Cowen quitting as leader of his ruling Fianna Fail party on Saturday.
“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,” Gormley said after talks with his party’s national executive.
The move plunges Ireland into even deeper chaos as it struggles to recover from a debt crisis that brought the economy to its knees and forced it to accept an international bailout in November.
Parliament must still pass a finance bill comprising spending cuts and tax hikes which are seen as a pre-condition for loans worth 67 billion euros (90 billion dollars) from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
All the main parties are committed to getting the bill through before an election and Gormley said this had not changed.
“We will remain true to our promise to support the finance bill from the opposition benches,” he said, but urged Fianna Fail to “make every effort to fast-track this legislation”.
The opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties have demanded the bill be put through in a week, in time to dissolve parliament and call an election Friday.
Responding to the Green party’s announcement, Cowen said the finance bill remained his priority and there would be discussions about a timetable on Monday — but stressed that it was “not possible” to pass the bill in a week.
However, Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly said that if their demands were not met, his party would “absolutely” proceed with a planned vote of no confidence in Cowen next week.
Labour also said it would continue its plans for a vote of no confidence in the government unless Monday’s talks went their way.
Cowen had been under pressure for months over his handling of the debt crisis that brought Ireland to its knees and caused it to become the second eurozone country after Greece to accept a bailout last year.
He survived a leadership challenge by foreign minister Micheal Martin last week, but an attempt to use Martin’s subsequent resignation and five other apparently coordinated cabinet resignations to force a reshuffle backfired.
The Green party vetoed any new reappointments and pressured Cowen into announcing the election date of March 11. Two days later he quit as leader of his party, which he has led since becoming premier in May 2008.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had described the situation as “complete madness”, saying on Saturday: “We are now the laughing stock of Europe.”
Martin is now the frontrunner to take over Fianna Fail, although he will be up against Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Defence Minister Eamon O Cuiv and Trade Minister Mary Hanafin.
Nominations close at 1:00pm (1300 GMT) Monday, ahead of a vote planned for Wednesday at a 2:00pm (1400 GMT) in Dublin.
Fianna Fail is expected to be punished by voters angry at the economic crisis, which has led to the imposition of harsh austerity measures.
Cowen said Saturday that he hoped his resignation would allow his centrist party — which is currently polling at about 14 percent — to fight the election “free from internal distractions”.
However, Green leader Gormley said Sunday: “The ongoing saga in relation to the Fianna Fail leadership… has not been resolved.
“Unfortunately I think very many people now feel that we need an election. That has always been our view and that is why we are going to have that election.”