Monday, 24 January 2011

Irish Government in Flux

The situation in Ireland is changing quite rapidly: after the motion of confidence and the resignation of Brian Cowen as leader of Fianna Fáil but not as Taoiseach, the coalition Green Party yesterday pulled out of government.

John Gromley, the Green Party leader, said that their patience had run out:

“In his statement, Gormley soon focused on why the relationship had fractured irreparably. It was grindingly obvious, given all that had happened in the preceding days: “Our patience has reached an end. There’s a lack of communication and a breakdown in trust. We have decided that we can no longer continue in Government.”

From their perspective, the crucial moment had come when Cowen had decided to press ahead with a reshuffle without consulting the partners. “What cut us to the quick was that Cowen thought he could bypass convention and somehow override our concerns by forcing resignations and creating vacancies,” said one. “That was not on.””


Now there is a minority Fianna Fáil government in place at the constitutional minimum limit of 7 ministers (as Stephen Spillane has pointed out), which will only remain in place until the passage of the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill is an implementing bill which will set out in more detail some of the budgetary legislation passed last year. Some elements of the Bill were only published on Friday, and usually there is a long process of scrutiny before it is passed, but the opposition are demanding that the Bill be passed by this Friday, and then an election called, or they will proceed with their various no confidence motions (there is one of no confidence in the Taoiseach, and another in the whole government).

Brian Lenihan, the Finance Minister and a contender for the FF leadership, has stated that the Bill cannot be passed so quickly, though some have suggested that the parts of the Bill had been published before Friday could be voted on and passed, while the more recent parts could be deleted and left until after the election.

This week will be another eventful one. A new FF leader should be elected by Wednesday, there may or may not be a motion of confidence before the Dáil on Tuesday, and whatever is agreed by Friday, the government is bound to be in trouble. I had thought about explaining who is running for the leadership for the FF party – there are 4 contenders – but there doesn’t seem to be much point, quite frankly. Fianna Fáil won’t be leading a government any time soon, and whoever is elected as leader will be defending the general approach of the current government to the crisis, even if admitting some mistakes. Still, the 4 candidates are: Micheál Martin, Mary Hanafin, Éamon Ó Cúiv (a grandson of party founder Eamon de Valera), and Brian Lenihan. Martin and Lenihan are the two main rivals for the post.

Meanwhile, it seems that Berlin will announce its vision for the future of the Eurozone. I suspect that this will have a greater impact on Ireland’s economic and political future than the farce taking place in Leinster House. It’s a pity that the parties are focused on purely national budgetary policy, and don’t seem to be forming stronger Eurozone policies.

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