Notable political heads that rolled due to political crises

Events have always conspired to derail the best laid plans of ministers and governments

Political crisis redux: Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar are hard at it in pursuit of a resolution to this latest crisis. But will their efforts bear fruit?

Political crisis redux: Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar are hard at it in pursuit of a resolution to this latest crisis. But will their efforts bear fruit?

 

When a minister has become embroiled in a crisis, there has been a long tradition in Irish politics for a coalition partner, or the Opposition, to demand his or her resignation.

In the past, the outcome was inevitable.

The most recent example was that of Alan Shatter in 2014. Likewise, Governments have fallen on issues that seemed hugely important to politicians and the media at the time. However, in many instances the details of which were lost on the electorate. Here are some examples of both phenomena:

RESIGNATIONS

2009/2010: Willie O’Dea

The Limerick poll-topper resigned as minister for defence after a defamation case taken by Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan (now a TD). A tape emerged that contradicted evidence O’Dea had taken. The junior Government partners to Fianna Fáil at the time were the Greens.

2010: John O’Donoghue

The one-time Fianna Fáil heavyweight was ceann comhairle when a Sunday newspaper began publishing replies it had received to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documentation disclosed ostentatious expenses for trips O’Donoghue and his wife had taken while he was minister for arts and also when he was ceann comhairle. O’Donoghue agree to stand down after then Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he no longer had confidence in him.

2014: Alan Shatter

The Fine Gael veteran resigned as Minister for Justice in 2014 following several months in which he was dogged by controversy over his handling, and the Department of Justice’s handling, of allegations of Garda malpractice made by Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Then taoiseach Enda Kenny essentially pressed for Shatter’s resignation on foot of adverse findings against him in a report written by senior counsel Sean Guerin. Shatter subsequently overturned the findings and was exonerated when he challenged the findings in court.

1990: Brian Lenihan

The late Brian Lenihan snr was the Fianna Fáil candidate in the presidential election. During the campaign, Lenihan appeared on RTÉ’s Questions and Answers and denied he had tried to contact then president Patrick Hillery in Áras an Uachtaráin during a political crisis in the early 1980s. However, a tape existed of an interview he gave to a student, in which he had confirmed the call.

When the tape was disclosed Fianna Fáil’s junior partners in Government, the Progressive Democrats, insisted on Lenihan’s resignation. Then taoiseach Charlie Haughey reluctantly agreed and was forced to fire Lenihan in the middle of the election campaign.

Governments that fell on very specific scandals

1994: The Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition fell apart after it emerged there were long delays in the Attorney General’s office in processing the extradition of paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth. The then attorney general Harry Whelehan had just been appointed President of the High Court. But in an unprecedented reverse, he was pressurised to resign from the position. Outgoing taoiseach Albert Reynolds resigned and was replaced by Bertie Ahern. An Oireachtas committee later investigated the matter. Many of the details surrounding what happened were obscure and impenetrable to the general public.

1982: A minority Fine Gael government fell over the issue of children’s shoes. Garret Fitzgerald was taoiseach and John Bruton was minister for finance. He planned to introduce VAT for children’s shoes. One of the arguments advanced was the tin-eared one that women with petite foot sizes could buy children’s shoes without paying the tax.

Jim Kemmy was one of a small number of Independent TDs supporting the government. The Limerick deputy told Bruton he could not support the VAT measure. When it was included in the document, he voted against the Government, triggering a general election.

2011: Fianna Fáil and the Greens. The Brian-Cowen led government was on its last legs but what actually caused it to crash was a hare-brained plan to replace most of the Cabinet with Fianna Fáil’s brightest up-and-coming TDs.

Initially, Coalition partners the Green Party went along with the plan.

But when it became obvious that the idea was far-fetched, the party quickly withdrew its support.

In the event, most of Cowen’s Fianna Fáil ministers had stepped down. That left him with only a handful of ministers, who were forced to take on extra portfolios.

The government collapsed soon afterwards.

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