Fionnan Sheahan: Why the party of power is no longer in control of events
Published 24/01/2011 | 05:00
The opposition parties smell a rat when they hear Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan claim there is no way the legislation can be passed by the end of the week
Simon Coveney was on a door-to-door canvass in Turners Cross in Cork (just a couple of hundred yards away from Micheal Martin's house) on Saturday afternoon when his mobile phone rang.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen had only announced his resignation some 30 minutes earlier.
The Fine Gael TD returned the call to the Green Party's Eamon Ryan.
Mr Coveney and Mr Ryan had worked well together when both were opposition spokesmen on energy and communications from 2002 to 2007 and kept up a cooperative relationship, even when the Green TD became minister.
Mr Ryan wanted to suss out Fine Gael's view on the passing of the Finance Bill and if the party would be amenable to having it passed early -- rather than trying to bring down the Government.
Mr Coveney got on to Enda Kenny who was in Northern Ireland at the Alliance Party conference and also contacted Michael Noonan, James Reilly and Phil Hogan.
Mr Kenny told Mr Coveney to give a positive but cautious response on getting the bill passed, provided it wouldn't be used as a means to extend the life of the Government and the coalition was serious about finishing with it this week and then calling an election.
Mr Noonan enunciated this policy that evening and the Labour Party agreed too.
The Greens' entry into coalition with Fianna Fail was facilitated by a call from the late Seamus Brennan to John Gormley on the weekend after the 2007 general election.
The irony of this past weekend is that the Greens were able to keep open a better line of communications with Fine Gael than with Fianna Fail.
Surely there's a lesson there for Fianna Fail.
Mr Ryan was also in contact with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan several times on Saturday and Sunday. Mr Lenihan continually insisted passing of the Finance Bill within the week would not be possible.
But events are now out of the hands of Fianna Fail.
The party of power is no longer in control of events in this country.
Fine Gael and the Labour Party can trigger the end of this Government.
Just hours after the election of a new Fianna Fail leader, the party faces the prospect of plunging headlong into a general election campaign.
Unlike its counterparts, Fianna Fail does not do bi-partisan politics.
The efforts at cross-party agreements are always half-hearted with the veto always being held like a gun by the main party.
This time, the party has no choice.
To buy a little bit of time for the new party leader and do what is genuinely in the national interest by passing the legislation, the Fianna Fail hierarchy will have to delicately negotiate with the other parties.
The opposition parties smell a rat when they hear Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan claim there is no way the legislation can be passed by the end of the week.
After watching a number of bills with wide-ranging powers being passed by the Government in record quick time, amid debate being cut off and late-night sittings, they are right to be suspicious.
Labour finance spokesperson Joan Burton calculates the Dail can spend at least 40 hours debating the Finance Bill this week as everything else can be ditched.
"There is no point in Leader's Questions because there is no leader of the Government. There is no point to Questions to the Minister because there are no ministers," she says.
The only barrier is the opinion of the Department of Finance officials, who will either have to back up or contradict the view of their minister that it's simply not possible to do it in the tight timeframe.
The mandarins of Merrion Street will know the opposition parties of today will provide the new Finance Minister in a month's time.
Presuming the Finance Bill is passed this weekend, there is also nothing stopping Mr Cowen from calling a general election immediately.
After all, Bertie Ahern called the general election at 6am last time in 2007.
Mr Cowen will still have the option of running a four-week campaign to give his party a chance to get their act in gear. But this will be the last decision of significance to be made.
Out of the astonishing events of the past week, an example of new politics has the opportunity to emerge today, where the parties come together to agree a pathway that is in the country's interests.
Anybody who does not believe the passing of the Finance Bill is necessary is being naïve both economically and politically.
A country dependent on an international bailout does not have the luxury of sending out a message of instability.
A new government to be elected in the coming five weeks does not need the millstone of having to reopen Pandora's Box of Budget 2011, putting them immediately in conflict.
Fianna Fail will have to show a bit of humility too and allow others to dictate the pace.
After dominating government in this country over the past 80 years, the Soldiers of Destiny can start getting used to having someone else issuing the orders.
The new Fianna Fail leader, whoever that will be, will be facing a decade at least before his party has any chance of getting back into power.