21st Jun 2021

Irish goverment teetering as Greens pull plug on coalition

  • John Gormley, leader of the Irish Greens

Ireland's Green Party, the junior partner in the country's governing coalition with centre-right Fianna Fail, has announced it is to pull the plug on the alliance, calling on the government to announce elections in January.

The party will however stay on until passage of the 2011 budget and a four-year austerity programme that looks set to include €15 billion of wage cuts, public sector lay-offs and hikes in taxation on low income earners.

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Fianna Fail, with its razor-thin majority of three deputies, depends on the Greens' six seats to push through legislation.

Only hours after the taoiseach, the country's prime minister, Brian Cowen, announced Ireland would be applying for a multi-billion bail-out from the EU and IMF, Green Party leader and environment minister in the government, John Gormly lambasted his coalition partners for "betraying" the Irish people and demanded early elections.

"The past week has been a traumatic one for the Irish electorate. People feel misled and betrayed," he said on Monday (22 November).

The announcement dealt a fresh blow to the euro. The currency had spiked upward after markets were reassured by Dublin's announcement it will finally tap a €440 billion eurozone bail-out fund. However, news of growing political uncertainty in the country erased these gains, sending the euro back to levels seen on Friday ahead of the prime minister's bail-out press conference.

The Green Party will however stay on to ensure that "a credible four-year plan to show we can make our budgets balance by 2014," is produced, as well as a budget for 2011 that is likely to include cuts of some €6 billion, both of which aim to assure funding support from the EU and IMF.

"Leaving the country without a government while these matters are unresolved would be very damaging and would breach our duty of care," said Mr Gormley.

"But we have now reached a point where the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months. So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011."

The party leadership took the decision after a week of being sidelined from secret discussions over the bail-out.

"The party has been entirely kept out of the loop from all decision-making, but not just the Greens, pretty much most of the cabinet," said one source familiar with the feeling inside the party. "There was only a very small group being kept in the know."

The already yawning gap in trust between Fianna Fail and the Greens has only widened as a result of the crisis.

Last Wednesday, Dan Boyle, who sits with the Greens in the upper house, tweeted: "There is a questioning of trust and an adding to uncertainty that is making the basis for being in government much more difficult."

The announcement may be one of the last moves for the dying party, which has been on 1-3 percent in the polls for some time. Activists expect the party to be bludgeoned in the next election.

Strains first began to emerge last year when the Greens held an internal debate over leaving the coalition of the government's earlier austerity measures and bank rescue programme.

However, despite misgivings, most party members were won to the side of sticking with the coalition by the party leadership's argument that it would be better to stay in and deliver on some of the party's policy hopes than be outside. In a vote over backing an agreement for government with Fianna Fail, 85 percent of members endorsed the party leadership's strategy.

The leading opposition parties, the centre-right Fine Gael and centre-left Labour - on track to form a coalition after any election - offer a virtually identical response to the crisis to the government.

On Monday afternoon, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny made a fresh call for immediate elections.

"The move by the Green Party this morning was presumably intended to provide clarity in terms of the date for an Election – what has actually happened is further uncertainty has been created," he said.

"What is needed now is an immediate General Election so that a new government, with a clear parliamentary majority, can prepare the four-year economic plan."

Both broadly support government plans to bring down the deficit within four years to three percent of GDP and austerity measures worth €15 billion over the next four years.

Thus the distinctions parties would attempt to make between each other in a January election would likely be limited to personalities and the fine print of how austerity will be implemented.

Sinn Fein, the left republican party whose IRA paramilitary wing campaigned for 30 years to end British rule in Northern Ireland, rejects the austerity measures and is instead arguing for a package of fiscal stimulus. It has been one of the main beneficiaries of disillusion with the mainstream parties and is poised for an upset win in a by-election in Donegal South West, long held by Fianna Fail.

Some 100 protesters clashed with police as they attempted to mount a sit-in of the parliament. A number of activists carried Sinn Fein placards and flags.

According to a Red C poll set to be released on Tuesday, Fianna Fail is on 17 percent, while Fine Gael is on 33 percent, Labour on 27 percent, Sinn Fein on 11 percent and the Greens on three percent.

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