Cowen throws fresh doubt on timing of by-elections
Published 25/10/2010 | 05:00
FRESH doubts emerged last night over the Government's promise to hold all three outstanding by-elections in the early part of next year.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen sparked confusion over the coalition's by-election plans after he appeared to suddenly differentiate between the three votes.
Mr Cowen guaranteed that the Donegal South-West vote would be held in the spring. Yet he surprisingly failed to commit to the same date for the other two votes in Dublin South and Waterford.
Mr Cowen's stance is at odds with the Government's previous pledge last month to hold all three by-elections by the end of April at the latest. But the coalition would be able to defend its narrowing majority for longer if it delayed filling the three seats by holding just one by-election early in 2011.
Mr Cowen's comments also undermine Environment Minister John Gormley's preference for the three by-elections, the Dublin mayoral election and the children's rights referendum all to be held on the one bumper voting day.
Government sources said Mr Cowen was not saying the by-elections would not all be held at the same time and he was merely responding to a question about the Donegal South-West vote. But the comments will reignite speculation that the Government plans to only hold one by-election.
Fine Gael said Mr Gormley is the minister responsible for elections, so he has to clear up the confusion. The party's environment spokesman Phil Hogan said the Green Party leader had to step forward and confirm the by-elections would be held on the same day -- as promised.
"This is another sign that Fianna Fail and the Greens will do anything to cling to power. Mr Gormley can forget about trying to get away with any stalling tactics because the people won't put up with it," he said.
A spokesman for Mr Gormley said the minister stood by his view that the by-elections should be held on the same date, but declined to respond to Mr Cowen's comments.
"We have nothing to say about that at all. I would direct you to what key Green Party people have said on this matter," the spokesman said.
The promise to order the holding of the by-election, known as moving the writ, in Donegal South-West in the first quarter of next year also forms part of the Government's defence of a legal challenge against the failure to hold the vote.
In an interview at the weekend, Mr Cowen bizarrely refused to commit to holding the by-elections in Dublin South and Waterford on the same day as Donegal South-West. He merely said they would be held "in due course".
The Government announced its "intention" to hold the by-elections early next year when it defeated an attempt in the Dail to have the votes straight away.
Government chief whip John Curran said the Government was putting off the by-elections to next year to firstly "clear the major upcoming economic hurdles".
"It is with that in mind that it is the Government's intention to move the writs for the by-elections in the first quarter of 2011," he said.