Gormley wants March election


Green Party leader John Gormley said this afternoon he wants the general election to be held by the end of March.

Mr Gormley met Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Government Chief Whip John Curran this morning to discuss a timetable for passing the Finance Bill and outstanding legislation as well as the timing of a general election.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Gormley said he wanted a general election before the end of March after the Dáil passes the Finance Bill. Mr Gormley said there were “some difficulties” with the Bill but they are “not insurmountable”.

"The Taoiseach has said he wants to conclude the Finance Bill as quickly as possible and the other legislative proposals can be carried out in parallel," he said. "To let it drift beyond into April would be unacceptable."

Meanwhile, Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin has revealed that she voted against the motion of confidence in the Taoiseach at last night’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. The Taoiseach won the secret ballot by an undisclosed margin.

His challenger Micheál Martin resigned from the Cabinet immediately after the result of vote was announced, saying he felt ‘honour bound’ to do so. His resignation was accepted by the Taoiseach, who has now taken over responsibilities for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Speculation is mounting that Mr Cowen may be considering a more extensive reshuffle of his Cabinet. Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Minister for Defence Tony Killeen have already said they will not be contesting the next election and may be replaced by the Taoiseach.

The position of Minister for Health Mary Harney, who has yet to indicate whether or not she will stand in the election, is unclear.

 Ms Hanafin's future as a minister is also the subject of some speculation. Speaking to reporters in Dublin today, Ms Hanafin said she had discussed her position with the Taoiseach before the vote. “I did vote against the motion and the Taoiseach knew exactly what I was doing,” she said.

She did not address last night's meeting as she did not want to influence the outcome. “I chose to do it this way. I was not part of the campaign that was going on. It was a motion of confidence, it wasn’t a leadership contest. It wasn’t about coming out in favour of one person or the other. If it had been then I might have been active in actually canvassing for a person, but it wasn’t.”

She said she now had confidence in the Taoiseach and spoke to him last night after the vote. “I didn’t offer my resignation, nor did he ask for it. We both indicated that we are very happy that I will continue doing the job in Government that I do,” she said. “This was a party issue, it was a party issue for the next election, it had nothing to do with our role in Government.”

She said she did not feel her failure to say how she would vote in the ballot had damaged her credibility and she also denied she had hung Mr Martin out to dry.

Mr Cowen told the Dáil at the start of business today that he had informed the President of Mr Martin's resignation and has assigned the foreign affairs portfolio to himself. There had been speculation that he might assign it to Minister of State for European Affairs Dick Roche.

The outcome of last night’s vote was not disclosed and the ballot papers were shredded after they were counted by tellers Rory O’Hanlon and Michael Moynihan. Before the meeting, 41 of the party’s 71 TDs had pledged to vote confidence in Mr Cowen, 14 said they were voting against and 16 would not say.

However, Longford-Westmeath TD Mary O’Rourke said on Twitter this morning the motion was carried by a margin of two to one. “So now the fuss is over - vote was 2-1 in favour of Brian Cowen... secret of course!!” she tweeted. “All very polite and would have preferred a bit of blood and thunder myself... this politeness won’t last!”

Mr Curran this morning denied Opposition allegations the Government is stalling over calling an election and hinted that it could happen in March. He said while the dissolution of the Dáil is the prerogative of the Taoiseach, the “indicative timeframe” in terms of completing the legislation will be about a month earlier this year than normal.

“It is not possible to give a specific date – to say we will have it done on X – but I’m telling you that traditionally it is completed about the end of March or early April [and] this year it will be about a month earlier,” Mr Curran told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Gormley said the exact date for a general election was a matter for the Taoiseach to decide. He insisted the Green Party was not stalling on the matter, despite earlier calling for an election to be held this month. Mr Gormley said that all along the Green Party insisted that the Finance Bill needed to be passed before the Dáil was dissolved.

He also said the Fianna Fáíl leadership debate had been resolved and that he hoped there was a definitive conclusion to the matter.

Mr Cowen and Mr Martin both expressed their regard for each other after last night’s vote, maintaining that the party was unified going into the general election. Mr Cowen said that neither he nor his challenger thought less of each other because of what happened and he pledged to use the talents of the Cork South Central TD in the election.

Mr Cowen said later that he was very pleased at the outcome. “My view that it was the view of the party that I should stay on as leader of the party has been vindicated and confirmed by the vote this evening at the parliamentary party meeting,” he said.

Mr Martin said that he and the Taoiseach had agreed last weekend that he would not step down ahead of the meeting because of the destabilising effect it would have on Government. However, he said that both agreed he would resign if his challenge did not succeed.

“It is incompatible with staying in office. It is a fundamental principle. It was the proper thing to do and the honourable course of action to take,” he said. “I was clear that I would insist on my resignation if my views did not prevail in the vote.”