Boyle tweet turned 'technical hitch' into major political turmoil

Sat, Feb 20, 2010, 00:00

ANALYSIS:THE RESIGNATION of minister for defence Willie O’Dea has focused attention on how the Coalition partners do their business. Is this a dysfunctional partnership or was the O’Dea affair a type of political tsunami nobody could stop?

Was the Green Party, to use Senator Dan Boyle’s term, “bounced” into supporting a motion of confidence in the embattled Fianna Fáil minister? How is business agreed between the parties and who is running the show?

“Ultimately the business of Government is agreed between the Taoiseach and Minister Gormley at a weekly scheduled meeting on Tuesday in advance of Cabinet,” a senior political source from the larger party told The Irish Times.

“In terms of the ordering of the daily and weekly business in the Dáil, the whips meet at 5pm every Wednesday evening of the previous week to discuss and agree the Dáil’s schedule.”

But this orderly arrangement was overtaken by events this week.  Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny announced on Tuesday evening he was tabling a no-confidence motion in Mr O’Dea. Fianna Fáil sources say Taoiseach Brian Cowen was anxious to meet the challenge “head-on”.

“The normal precedent when the Opposition indicate that they are tabling a motion of no confidence is that the Government indicate that they would instead table a motion of confidence,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

“At the Order of Business on Wednesday, when this was raised with him, the Taoiseach indicated that his preference would be ‘to move it today or tomorrow, by agreement’.

“Following the indication by the Taoiseach in the Dáil, the party whips were contacted by text to inform them of this.

“The first indication that there was dissatisfaction within the Green Party in relation to the scheduling of the debate was when Senator Boyle’s comments on Twitter were made public.”

Green Party sources said there was “a technical glitch” and “a certain lapse in communication” between the governing parties for “the first time in two and a half years”.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil at about 12.10pm on Wednesday that the Government would be tabling a motion of confidence in the minister to counter Enda Kenny’s no-confidence motion.

The Greens were not notified in advance, and Gormley said yesterday: “It’s one of those things that can happen in the heat of the moment when the Opposition raised a matter and the Taoiseach reacted on the floor of the House and as a result of that, the motion of confidence went down [on the order of business].”

Green chief whip Ciarán Cuffe received a text about the confidence motion from Government chief whip Pat Carey’s office at approximately 1.20pm. “We would normally expect to be consulted [in advance], but this wasn’t a ‘biggie’,” Green sources said.

Fianna Fáil sources say it still wasn’t too late: “That was the point to have raised concerns.”

But they didn’t.

Pat Carey had also spoken to Gormley at about this time and told him what was intended. Other Green Party officials also knew about the confidence motion.

At this stage, the reservations expressed that evening by party chairman Senator Dan Boyle in his famous Twitter messages were not widely held in the parliamentary party.

“Dan’s tweet was just Dan,” says a party colleague.

As a Green insider puts it: “Not everybody in the Green Party thought initially it [the confidence motion] was a bad thing.”

This is confirmed by sources in the Fianna Fáil camp. “They never came back to say they had any difficulty.”

Although Green Communications Minister Eamon Ryan’s Dáil speech was seen as distinctly unenthusiastic, the Greens nevertheless voted for the confidence motion which even got the support of Independent TD Joe Behan who normally votes against the Government.

But then there was, as a Green insider put it, “a 22-hour change of heart” and Gormley informed the Taoiseach that Willie O’Dea’s position was no longer tenable. But the manner in which the confidence motion had been introduced was a relatively minor issue.

The grassroots dimension of Green politics tends to complicate life for the Government (a position that many would consider healthy). As party chairman, Boyle’s remit is to ensure that the Green “identity” is preserved.

This is an internal Green Party matter, or as a Fianna Fáil source put it: “The Government doesn’t really deal with Dan Boyle. He imposed himself on the process.”