Green for go
Nothing should really surprise us anymore when it comes to politics in this country. But it does. Before the weekend we had March 11th set as the date for the General Election; we had Brian Cowen still operating under the respective titles of Taoiseach and leader of the Fianna Fail Party; and we had the Greens still members of a Coalition Government creaking under serious pressure from all sides, not to mention from within.
And now? Now we have serious doubts about a March election as the push comes to pass the Finance Bill and the strong possibility exists of polling day being brought forward, perhaps to February 25th.
On Saturday, Mr. Cowen announced in front of a huge press corps that he was stepping down as leader of his party but indicating that he would be continuing as Taoiseach - a somewhat bizarre scenario and one that doesn't appear to tally up.
The weekend shunting wasn't over, however. On Sunday Green Party leader, John Gormley, hastily convened a press conference to reveal that his charges were withdrawing from the Coalition, citing a series of problems between the partners including the lack of information stemming from Fianna Fail in respect of political developments. The issue on the Fianna Fail leadership had, he indicated, proved another factor in the decision to bring the Coalition to an end.
Yesterday, Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, a candidate to take over from Mr. Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail, had initiated talks with Opposition parties - which now includes the Greens - in an effort to reach agreement on a timetable for the Finance Bill. Should such agreement be reached, it's likely the Bill will be fast-tracked through the Dail. If it gets the Green light, both Fine Gael and the Labour Party claim they will drop their respective votes of no confidence in the Taoiseach, leading the way for a dissolution of the Dail and the calling of an election sooner than was anticipated a few short days ago.
This, of course, is Irish politics and anything's possible. What is certain is that there are four candidates in the running to take over from Mr. Cowen with the man who initiated the last big challenge to the outgoing leader, Micheal Martin, the favourite. It's understood that over half of those F.F. Deputies who can vote have declared their backing for the former Minister for Foreign Affairs.
But a baptism of fire awaits whoever is installed with party campaigners set to confront an angry electorate when they knock on the doors and trod the highways and byways in the coming weeks up to whatever date is finalised for the General Election.
Insisting that the Government wasn't stalling on when the election should be held, Mr. Lenihan claimed yesterday that Fine Gael and Labour appeared to want an arrangement where they had a "walk-over."
But that arrangement may have come into place long before last weekend's events as the result of mismanagement of the country's finances and where, ultimately, the burden fell.