Belfast Telegraph

Brian Cowen’s reshuffle flops as Republic totters toward poll

Taoiseach Brian Cowen's leadership was back on the line last night after his attempted Cabinet reshuffle backfired spectacularly — forcing him to call an early Irish general election for March 11.

Mr Cowen's bungled effort to replace half of his ministers prompted renewed calls for him to resign as leader of Fianna Fail, with ministers openly discussing his position with backbenchers.

The Green Party told Mr Cowen it was going to walk out of government if he proceeded with his plan — and the party had even drafted a statement of resignation.

After being forced to make the most humiliating climbdown of his career, Mr Cowen was accused by the Opposition of trying to pull a “stroke” by promoting his own TDs ahead of the election.

The complete breakdown in relations between Fianna Fail and the Greens saw both blame each other for the debacle.

In a series of astonishing political events that rocked the coalition and caused irreparable damage to Mr Cowen:

  • The Dail had to be suspended for two hours.
  • Mr Cowen and Mr Gormley held three crisis meetings.
  • Green Party TDs and senators discussed pulling out of government.
  • A Constitutional controversy emerged with questions over who was Justice Minister.
  • Mr Cowen had to strike a compromise deal to prevent an immediate election.
  • Five Fianna Fail cabinet ministers were given double jobs.
  • Mr Cowen announced the date of the general election; l Fianna Fail and the Greens clashed over the causes of the crisis.
  • Fianna Fail ministers and TDs openly discussed Mr Cowen's leadership.

The Taoiseach was adamant he simply wanted to renew the Fianna Fail line-up of ministers ahead of the election.

But Greens leader John Gormley he had told Mr Cowen they were not willing to support the reshuffle. His party colleague, communications minister Eamon Ryan, told Mr Cowen to his face in a meeting that the Greens were going to walk out of government.

Just two days after his position was endorsed by the party through a motion of confidence victory, Mr Cowen now faces a renewed crisis in his leadership.

The government has pledged to stay on to pass the Finance Bill, which will be published today, in order to enact the measures |outlined in Budget 2011.

Mr Cowen will dissolve the Dail in the middle of February to allow the election to be held on Friday, March 11.

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