Saturday 20 January 2018

Beleaguered Cowen facing onslaught in the Dail

Taoiseach Brian Cowen's shaky grip on power faces a renewed onslaught today as TDs return to the Dail after their summer recess.

After a three-month break, marred by controversy and threatened backbench revolts, there will be no let-up for the Fianna Fail leader.

On the first day back, Mr Cowen is likely to come under attack over unemployment as latest live register figures are released by the Central Statistics Office.

Pressure will also be heaped on the Taoiseach over Anglo Irish Bank ahead of Thursday's announcement by the Central Bank on its new estimate of the losses at the nationalised rogue lender.

Mr Cowen's return to the Dail will not be made any easier by a weakened majority and a decision by Fine Gael to withdraw so-called pairing arrangements with the coalition.

Asked about the added strain the Fine Gael move has put on Government numbers, Mr Cowen appealed for the opposition to work for the "national interest", which he said transcends party interests.

"The country has to get on with its business, the Government has to get on with its business, the parliament has to get on with its business," he said.

"We all have to be sensible."

Fine Gael's environment spokesman Phil Hogan predicted the coalition has just months left before a general election is called.

"It's clear that independent and Fianna Fail backbenchers who are supporting the Government over the last three years are now changing their minds," he said.

"It's creating a lot of instability."

Mr Hogan said his party will do "everything possible" to bring down the Government in the coming weeks and months.

The withdrawal of pairing arrangements - where an opposition TD agrees to miss a vote so as not to take advantage of a Government minister being away on official business - will cause havoc for ministers on a weekly basis, he warned.

The coalition currently has 84 seats to the combined opposition's 78.

But the threatened withdrawal of support by Fianna Fail's Mattie McGrath and Independent TD Noel Grealish could put that slim Government majority on a knife edge.

Further pressure for three by-elections to fill vacant seats in Donegal South West, Dublin South and Waterford is also casting doubt on the long-term prospects of the Fianna Fail/Greens partnership.

Press Association

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