So What Happens Now?
The last time Leinster House was in such turmoil was in 1994 when Fianna Fail and Labour had their spectacular fallout that stemeed from the appointment of then attorney general Harry Whelehan to the post of President of the High Court.
There was a sense of escalation: Cowen’s rash act of appointing six new Ministers resulting in a juggernaut… a series of events that could culminate in the immediate fall of Government.
The atmosphere of uncertainty and bewilderment in the morning gave to rancour and recrimination in the afternoon. Some of it was directed by Fianna Failers at the Greens. But a lot of it was internal within Fianna Fail. If there was a name to all the blame, it was Brian Cowen.
His rush of blood to the head will be recalled in future years as one of the most singularly self-destructive decisions in Irish political history – up there with Reynold’s insistence on appointing Whelhan to the High Court; or John Bruton’s myopic political vision in imposing new taxes on children’s shoes.
The nub is what both sides took out of the famous meeting on Wednesday morning.
Cowen took from it that he had a right to go ahead to do whatever he wanted.
He didn’t. He mentioned four Ministers resinging (Martin, Ahern, Dempsey and Killeen) but not Batt O’Keeffe or Mary Harney.
Sure it was his prerogative. But there was realpolitik. By failing to communicate with the junior partner about the extent of the rout of his Cabinet, he showed a terrible short-sightedness and lack of political awarness that is shocking for a man of his experience.
And the lack of judgement extended to the decision itself. When rumours started circling about a reshuffle on Wednesday we political hacks (and our judgement is often REALLY REALLY FOUND WANTING) all thought it was a stupid idea. And most Fianna TDs we contacted them also thought that being offered a senior Ministry was like being given an advance copy of your P45.
The Greens were not entirely blamelessly.
I think there has been an element of retrospection to their objections.
The way they had it yesterday Eamon Ryan roared like a lion that it would not wash well with Joe Public and Dan Boyle gravely laid down the warning that the Green s would not vote to it.
But my opinion is that the objections – if not feeble – were more sotte voce than that. Tony Killeen left the meeting and wrote his resignation letter. The Greens that day let people know that four resignations were on the cards but did not seem to be laying down ‘over my dead body’ warnings about them. Their main concern seemed to revolve around the argument that it should not extend the lifetime of government.
It is true, however, that Gormley said on RTE that the party would reserve its posiition. He also alluded to concerns. And specifically he intimated his view was that the shuffle should be limited.
Cowen did not have to contact him. There was no formal requirement. But in the real world he should have contacted Gormley – especially as he was performing open heart surgery on the Fianna Fail patient.
It was interesting this morning to hear John Curran refute Dan Boyle who said the Greens would vote against the measure.
That could be an area of major contention. One side is right and the other is wrong on that specific point.
What now for Cowen?
It’s hard to know. Most TDs are back in their constituencies. It will be Tuesday before anything can happen.
Is there now a shift against him? Of course, there is. But I don’t believe anybody knows how this is going to unwind…