Fionnan Sheahan: Getting rid of leader carries big risk for FF
Published 18/09/2010 | 05:00
'And at each social gathering a flowin' glass I'll raise . . ." The penultimate line of the lyrics of 'the Lakes of Ponchartrain' takes on new meaning at the end of a dismaying week for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Coming up on five days after his rendition of the ballad in the Ardilaun Hotel, Cowen has effectively pledged not to engage in the raising of glasses at social gatherings.
Cowen is drifting toward seeing his term in office ended in unceremonious fashion.
Yesterday the Taoiseach said he will be "a bit more cautious" about his social engagements and head home a bit earlier. It's a start but far from enough.
Cowen's fate is now effectively out of his hands. Fianna Fail TDs are weighing up the options for their leadership dilemma.
A myriad of reasons are being put forward to remove Cowen as Taoiseach -- most of which were well-established before his calamitous performance this week. But there are no risk-free options.
The question of who replaces him would obviously immediately arise.
Unlike two years ago when Cowen replaced Bertie Ahern, the successor is not obvious.
Brian Lenihan's ongoing health issues would appear to rule him out at this point in time. As Cowen has found out, there is no way of escaping scrutiny when in the Taoiseach's office and the Finance Minister's condition would be constantly in focus.
Not only would the new leader not be an overwhelming choice, but they would also come into an exceptionally difficult set of circumstances.
The fiscal and banking crises still need to be addressed, with the Anglo Irish Bank plan and December's budget top of the agenda.
The clock is also running down to the next general election. The very survival of the coalition under a new Fianna Fail leader would also be cast into doubt.
The Green Party would have to decide upon the credibility of backing a third Taoiseach within the same term in office.
However, the junior coalition partners would be in even stronger bargaining position to extract the faster delivery of policy commitments from a new Taoiseach in return for their support.
And there's not even a guarantee the Greens' backing would be enough to hold off a general election.
Cowen's position looks increasingly untenable, but Fianna Fail's ministers and TDs have to decide if bringing an end to his tenure will also precipitate their own demise.