Following a morning of chaos and farce in the Dublin parliament, 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen has finally announced the General Election for Friday, March 11.
An apparent ploy by Cowen to carry out a cabinet reshuffle through a series of Ministerial resignations failed spectacularly this morning after it was opposed by Fianna Fail’s coalition partners, the Green Party.
The resignation of Minister for Health Mary Harney was joined late last night by the resignations of Minister for Enterprise Batt O’Keeffe; Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern; Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey; and Minister for Defence Tony Killeen.
Minister for Education Micheal Martin stepped down on Tuesday night following his failed challenge to Cowen’s leadership of Fianna Fail.
Other than Mr Martin, all of the Ministers who resigned have announced that they do not intend to contest the forthcoming election.
It had been Cowen’s clear intention to promote six backbenchers in order to boost their profile ahead of the election and accord them ministerial pay and privileges for the final weeks of his regime.
The Dail was suspended in chaos this morning amid persistent protest and interventions by the Opposition.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the situation where so many Ministers had resigned “would not have happened even in the days of great dictatorship”.
He said the Government was showing contempt for the Green Party who needed to “stop tweeting” and “step up to the plate”.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the appointment of Ministers had to be approved by the Dail.
“We have a flu epidemic we have people lying on hospitals in trolleys and the Minister for Health has taken to the hills, we have flights being cancelled in Aer Lingus and the Minister for Transport has resigned, we have problems for crime in many parts of the country and the two Ministers responsible for Justice and Defence are gone,” he said.
“We have had quite serious commentary on this country by both President Sarkozy of France and by the President of the European Commission and the Minister for Foreign Affairs has gone.”
Mr Gilmore described the situation as a “cynical, grubby exercise in last minute jobbery”.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said the people of the country “couldn’t believe that further strokes could yet be played” by Fianna Fail.
“This is a a blatant Fianna Fail stroke that treats the electorate with contempt. A deluded Taoiseach thinks that the last-minute promotion of new faces to the Cabinet will save Fianna Fail from electoral disaster. It is like applying a new coat of paint to a sinking ship.
“Clearly the Ministerial resignations were orchestrated to facilitate this stroke which is one of the most cynical moves ever made by a departing Government.
“Having sold the sovereignty of the State to the IMF and the EU the Taoiseach is now using the Cabinet table as a Fianna Fail election platform.”
It emerged when the Dail resumed this afternoon that Cowen’s premature move to accept the resignations, without Green Party approval, had forced a humiliating climbdown.
Cowen had been left with no option but to reassign the Ministerial portfolios to a greatly diminished cabinet, amid further uproar and anger.
The Green Party were not present this afternoon in the Dail when Cowen reversed course, but this morning’s scenes has cast a heavy shadow over the final weeks of the Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition.
The 26-County state is now facing months of political uncertainty before the election and a new government is formed.