Early election looms after Greens leave Government


THE DATE of the general election will be brought forward following the decision of the Green Party to pull out of Government. The election is now likely to take place on February 25th if the Government and the main Opposition parties can agree on a timetable to pass the Finance Bill in the next week to 10 days.

Minster for Finance Brian Lenihan has invited the Greens and the Opposition parties to meet him this afternoon to discuss how the Finance Bill can be passed before the election.

Fine Gael and Labour want a commitment that the Bill will be passed by next Friday, but Mr Lenihan has suggested that it will not be possible to get it through the Dáil until the following Wednesday.

The Opposition parties are still threatening to move motions of no confidence in the Taoiseach and the Government if they are not satisfied with the timetable for the Finance Bill and the general election.

The decision of the Greens to pull out of Coalition followed the announcement by Taoiseach Brian Cowen on Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fáil.

Mr Cowen said he made the decision based on his own assessment of the implications for him and his party of his failed attempt to reshuffle the Cabinet last Thursday.

He said he had spoken to his wife, Mary, and family before making the decision, adding that he had not been in touch with any senior member of the party about the issue.

In a short statement, Mr Cowen said he knew the membership of Fianna Fáil through the breadth of Ireland was concerned about the party’s prospects in the election.

“I share those concerns. I want the party in the best possible position to fight that election,” he said.

Yesterday Green Party leader John Gormley announced his party was leaving the Coalition with immediate effect because the patience of its members with their Fianna Fáil partners had reached an end.

The withdrawal of the two Green Ministers from Government means that there are now just seven members of the Cabinet left in office.

Seven is the minimum number of Ministers laid down by the Constitution, while 15 is the norm.

Mr Cowen last night said the resignations of Mr Gormley and Éamon Ryan had been accepted by the President. Mr Cowen assigned the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to Éamon Ó Cuív and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to Pat Carey.

Mr Gormley said while the Green Party was pulling out of Coalition, his party would support the passage of the Finance Bill through the Dáil.

He said the Greens believed it was possible that the Bill could be completed quickly before an election was called, although he accepted that it might not be possible to meet the Friday deadline set by Fine Gael and Labour.

Mr Gormley revealed that his party colleague Mr Ryan had made contact with Fine Gael on Saturday to test the waters about whether the Opposition would be prepared to co-operate with passing the Finance Bill if the Greens withdrew from Government.

Mr Gormley said the Greens would now support a “severely truncated” Finance Bill from the Opposition benches. He said the decision to leave Government had come after a series of problems between the Coalition partners, including the failure of Fianna Fáil to inform the Greens of important political developments and the “ongoing saga” surrounding the larger party’s leadership.

“Our patience has reached an end,” Mr Gormley said.

Fine Gael’s finance spokesman Michael Noonan said his party was willing to get the Finance Bill passed, but insisted that it would have to be done by Friday.

He said an assurance about the date of the election was tied in with the passage of the Finance Bill.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said he would not proceed with its motion of no confidence in the Government provided there was an unequivocal commitment that the Finance Bill would be enacted and the Dáil dissolved by Friday.

Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy- Rae, who have supported the Government since 2007, said in a statement last night that an early election was now essential.

“Our votes on the Finance Bill are not guaranteed,” Mr Lowry said in a statement. He urged the Opposition parties, in their meetings with Mr Lenihan, to not alone discuss the time scale involved but to negotiate any amendments required by the Opposition which would allow them to vote for the Bill and facilitate its enactment.

Wicklow Independent Joe Behan said yesterday he would vote for the Finance Bill, but he would not vote confidence in the Government.