Election will not be held until March, says Ryan
THE Green Party has shifted towards holding the General Election in March, despite previously setting a January deadline.
Green minister Eamon Ryan is the latest senior government figure to say the election will be called in February and then held the following month.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Ryan also claimed the Greens' decision to call an early election had actually helped the recent Budget to be passed.
The Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister also revealed how he told Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley not to say anything about the imminent international bailout on the weekend cabinet colleagues were infamously describing the arrival of the IMF and EU as "fiction".
Mr Ryan said he believed there was something happening in the background, but wasn't sure how it was developing.
Unlike Fianna Fail ministers, the Green minister based his economic views on contacts with finance chiefs, rather than solely relying on information from Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.
The Energy Minister said that since the introduction of the bank guarantee in September 2008, he had made it his business to become better informed on economic affairs.
"I remember saying after that, 'I need to be close to this'. I personally made a conscious effort to get a real understanding of the options," he said.
Mr Ryan said he met with former National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) chief Michael Somers and his staff in 2009 to discuss what needed to be done.
He said that "at various stages" he spoke to Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield, NTMA chief John Corrigan, and Department of Finance secretary general Kevin Cardiff.
"I found that -- at least for me -- was a comfort as I knew what was happening. I was reasonably well informed," he said.
The weekend before the arrival of the IMF, with media reports of a bailout swirling around, Mr Ryan said he tried to get a sense quickly of what was happening.
While Fianna Fail ministers were vehemently denying there was any truth to the speculation, Mr Ryan contacted Mr Gormley and a few other senior Greens to tell them the picture was not so clear and not to say anything.
"I had a sense there was something (going on), so it was best to say nothing," he said.
As a result, the Greens kept their heads down over the course of that weekend and avoided being caught out.
In the wake of the announcement of the international bailout, the Green Party decided to pull the plug on the coalition and call for a General Election in the new year.
Mr Ryan said the prospect of a General Election, sooner rather than later, helped get the Budget passed as TDs knew polling day was imminent.
It removed the idea that defeating the Budget was the only way to bring the Government down.
"It was not easy. It was a tough time. From my perspective, what it helped do was take some of the heat out of a tense political situation."
Matching similar comments by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Mr Gormley over recent days, Mr Ryan also sees the budgetary legislation being passed in February, with the Dail being dissolved that month and a General Election in March.
The Finance Bill is the law which enacts most of the changes announced in the Budget. The Green Party says a General Election must be held once this legislation is passed.
Mr Ryan denied that the initial setting of a January deadline for a General Election had damaged the Greens' credibility.
Asked when the election would be called, he replied: "Sometime in February. We have a duty of care to get the whole budgetary process through.
"It's not in the interests of this country to have a government formed without a Budget. That is now looking like a March election. I'd prefer to go to an election where it is not a chaotic conclusion," he said.
Mr Cowen has also indicated the Finance Bill will take until the end of February to be passed, thereby pointing to a March election date.
Mr Gormley has also said the General Election should be held in March, provided the Finance Bill passes without much delay.
GREENS HEADING FOR THE DUSTBIN: PAGE 20