A time for reckoning


IT HAS turned into a never-ending disaster now. There must be a dissolution of the 30th Dáil by the end of the week to prevent any further damage to the political process.

The Green Party had no option but to end the farcical game-playing by pulling out of the Coalition Government yesterday. They may think that they have left with some honour by pledging to support the passage of the Finance Bill from the Opposition benches but they really had no choice. For they are as complicit as Fianna Fáil in seeking to establish an artificial timeframe to suit their own interests. The whole edifice of our parliamentary democracy is put to shame by all of these extraordinary events.

The Taoiseach said on Friday that he was determined to lead Fianna Fáil into the election campaign “and beyond”. Less than 24 hours later, he had resigned as party leader and insisted that he would remain as Taoiseach during the campaign. Within the following 24 hours, four of his recent Cabinet colleagues, Brian Lenihan, Micheál Martin, Mary Hanafin and Éamon Ó Cuív were challenging for the party leadership, two of them having supported and two of them having opposed Mr Cowen’s position less than a week ago.

Good and decent man he may very well be, but his short tenure as Taoiseach will be characterised by the greatest ignominy of all: the abnegation of our economic sovereignty which will have untold consequences into the future. It is a shameful legacy for any leader but particularly for a Fianna Fáil leader. The chaotic manner of Mr Cowen’s resignation will pass but the rise in unemployment, the increase in taxes and the loss of national self-esteem will last for a long time. He, more than any other Fianna Fáil leader, spoke of party before country. It is no surprise, therefore, that he could not see the constitutional impropriety of using Ministerial nominations for purely tactical party reasons. It is also telling that senior experienced ministers, like Mary Harney, Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, resigned to facilitate this stroke. Shame on them, too.

It is further damaging to think that Mr Cowen can be Taoiseach, and Mr Martin, Mr Lenihan, Ms Hanafin or Mr Ó Cuív can be Fianna Fáil leader in the election campaign. When he said this proposition was confusing, he was right. It has not become less confusing because he has changed his mind.

Today’s controversy will surround the enactment of the Finance Bill. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan claims that it would be logistically impossible for him to get the Bill through the Dáil by Friday. The normal timetable for the passage of the Bill would be the end of March. The main Opposition parties, now including the Greens, want it done by Friday so that the election can be called. It is worth remembering that this is no normal Finance Bill. Rather, it is the domestic requirement to satisfy the terms of the bailout by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. There is little wriggle room in this Bill for any party, including Sinn Féin. All of the hours of debate in the world won’t turn back the clock on our loss of sovereignty.