What a difference a day makes

 

GOD ALMIGHTY, no one thought it could have got worse! The Government is staggering like a drunken sailor towards collapse. At least a date has been set for the general election though whether the Fianna Fáil/Green Party will continue in office for another seven weeks is another question. The Taoiseach is destroyed by the events of the last 24 hours. Never, ever, in the history of the State, even its darkest days, did a Taoiseach demonstrate such a lack of constitutional propriety, such a disregard for the status of Ministerial office, such a lack of distinction between State and party. He accepted a plethora of Cabinet resignations overnight and into early yesterday only to enable him to appoint new younger Fianna Fáil members as Ministers to help salvage the party’s general election campaign.

There have been GUBU days in politics before which cannot be explained to younger voters in a short editorial. Yesterday’s events were even more grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. Having survived a leadership challenge, the Taoiseach’s constitutional prerogative to appoint Fianna Fáil members to the Cabinet was curtailed by his Coalition partner, John Gormley. To be fair to Brian Cowen, there appears to be a difference of opinion as to what was agreed between the two Coalition leaders. Mr Gormley has questions to clarify also. Did he agree to replace Micheál Martin or to replace half of the Fianna Fáil retiring Ministers in Cabinet?

There is no doubt that this was the stroke of political strokes by Mr Cowen. Energised by his leadership victory, he set out to use Government preferment to serve Fianna Fáil in the election. But with some Fianna Fáil TDs in open revolt and Mary Hanafin warning against a reshuffle, it all came apart. John Gormley had nowhere to hide.

There was something pathetic about Mr Cowen’s subsequent speech to the Dáil. It had obviously been written before his forced climbdown and spoke of “the need for young people in Government” even as he reallocated important portfolios to ageing ministerial colleagues. The absence of Green Party Ministers from the chamber told its own story, as did the Taoiseach’s formal announcement of an election date – something he had resisted providing to Mr Gormley for months.

The Green Party is standing by its commitment to remain in Government until the Finance Bill has been passed. It hopes that climate change and other legislation can also be secured. Spurred on by the farming and business lobbies, Fianna Fáil backbenchers are preparing to revolt over carbon control legislation and in the circumstances, Mr Cowen is unlikely to upset them any further. Political observers have suggested that Mr Gormley would have improved the party’s chances of avoiding annihilation in the election had he left Government, offering to support the Finance Bill from the Opposition benches. But the Green Party is a neophyte in the practice of power-politics.

Yesterday’s extraordinary events will provide Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin with an unexpected impetus going into a shorter-than-expected election campaign.