Cabinet at war over demands by Greens
Walkout averted after 'outrageous' content of Climate Change Bill
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
A tense stand-off between Green Party and Fianna Fail ministers saw the final meeting of the Cabinet before Christmas postponed for several hours.
So serious were the divisions between the coalition partners over what Fianna Fail members of the Cabinet described as "outrageous demands" from the Greens on the Climate Change Bill, that Attorney General Paul Gallagher was summoned to provide a legal opinion.
Mr Gallagher's advice was sought following tense exchanges between ministers from both parties in relation to the proposed legislation.
Today's revelation of the growing strain and widening gulf between the coalition partners casts further doubt on the Government's ability to hold together long enough to stave off the general election until some time between the end of March and early April.
According to one senior Fianna Fail minister, a Green walkout from Cabinet was "only narrowly averted" over the Climate Change Bill.
Central to the row, which went on over several hours from the morning to the afternoon of December 14 last, the Sunday Independent understands, was the Green Party's proposed target for the reduction in carbon emissions.
Fianna Fail sources say that these exceeded the already stringent requirements set down by the EU.
Also causing serious concern to Fianna Fail ministers, particularly Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe, was the proposed level of increase in carbon taxes being sought by the Greens and their cost implications for Irish businesses.
The Sunday Independent understands that the Attorney General informed Cabinet ministers that were the Greens' legislative demands to be included in the Climate Change Bill as they stood, they would almost certainly leave a future government "handcuffed".
Having received Mr Gallagher's advice on the matter, the meeting finally got under way, but only after "the Greens were given some time to cool down and talk sense", a Fianna Fail minister said.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, another minister said the Greens had now come to the point of being "dangerously erratic" and "irrational".
That appraisal will not be lost on a public that only recently heard Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley speaking in the Dail, likening his experience of going into Government during the economic crisis to entering an asylum.
While Mr Gormley's curious public admission of his feelings of vulnerability took many by surprise, Cabinet sources have told the Sunday Independent how the Green leader has shown other signs that his grip on power within his own party is slipping.
Commenting on this, one informed Cabinet source said: "The leadership is no longer in control. The party is being driven by [Paul] Gogarty and [Trevor] Sargent.
"They fear that the longer this Government stays the more likely they are to lose their seats.''
Asked if those same Green TDs' electoral considerations could yet come to threaten the crucial passing of the measures contained in the Finance Bill -- upon which Ireland's recent agreement of its €85bn facility with the EU and IMF hinges -- the same source was anxious to play the possibility down.
"I don't even think the Greens could be that irrational.
"That would be pure political suicide. The public wouldn't forgive them.
"We will hang together before we hang separately," the source said.
Last month, when the Greens brought up their demands for rushed legislation on Green issues after Mr Gormley had publicly demanded an election in the second half of January, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey is reported to have told Green ministers at Cabinet that they "should have thought of that before you pulled the plug".