Cowen looking at reshuffle as relations with Greens worsen
RELATIONS between the government parties hit a new low last night as Taoiseach Brian Cowen left the door open for a possible cabinet reshuffle.
The complete breakdown in trust between Fianna Fail and the Green Party was exposed last night as Fianna Fail and the Greens clashed over the resignation of former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea.
The fallout from Mr O'Dea's departure saw tensions mount between the coalition parties.
The former Fianna Fail minister blamed the Greens for forcing his resignation.
Green Party leader John Gormley said he told Mr Cowen on Thursday afternoon that Mr O'Dea's position was "untenable".
The Green Party said "communications" between the parties will have to be tightened with party chairman Dan Boyle talking of "different political cultures".
Appearing to back-up Mr Boyle's claim that the Greens were bounced into backing Mr O'Dea this week, Mr Gormley said the party wasn't told the Government would be immediately pushing a confidence motion in the former minister.
And Fianna Fail is continuing to insist former Defence Minister Mr O'Dea jumped rather than being pushed by the junior coalition party.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen attempted to play down the impact of the controversy on the future of the Coalition.
Mr Cowen described relations with the Green Party as "excellent", despite Mr O'Dea's claims they had forced him out.
Although several government sources said Mr Cowen will just directly replace Mr O'Dea, Mr Cowen left the door open for a wider reshuffle of his Cabinet.
"In due course we will see what replacement will be made in that respect. I'm not making any comment on future reshuffles at this point," he said.
Mr Cowen also denied the claims from the Green Party that he had bounced them into supporting the quickly arranged motion of confidence in Mr O'Dea in the Dail last Wednesday.
The Taoiseach said he took up the opposition challenge to Mr O'Dea "immediately" during the Dail's Order of Business because he did not want any "uncertainty" surrounding any minister's position. He said the Government had not left the Dail chamber until 12.40pm and that Government Chief Whip Pat Carey had then informed "our Green Party colleagues" as soon as possible.
"It hadn't been indicated to me beforehand that there would be any problem," he said.
Following the controversial incident, the Greens are going to demand a tightening up of communications with Fianna Fail -- particularly in the area of scheduling Dail business.
Mr Cowen denied that Fianna Fail was resentful towards the Green Party for forcing Mr O'Dea from office.
But a Green Party source confirmed there was flak over Mr Gormley's statement in response to Mr O'Dea's resignation, which was "viewed as unduly harsh from the Fianna Fail side".
Mr O'Dea said he stepped down from office to protect the stability of the Government, because the Green Party would not support the Coalition if he remained on as minister.
The former minister revealed he had no option but to stand down after the Green Party threatened to walk out of government.
Speaking in his home power base of Limerick, Mr O'Dea said it was clear the Greens would no longer support the Government if he remained in office.
"If I had stayed in government, it would have made the continuation of the Government impossible -- that's what I was told," he said.
"The fact that I left government has enabled the Government to go forward with their programme to rectify the economy and I think that is in the interests of the country."
Mr Cowen made a clear attempt to shift the blame away from the Green Party, whose leader John Gormley had told him that Mr O'Dea's position was untenable.
But he denied he had been forced to backtrack on his previous vote of confidence in Mr O'Dea just 24 hours earlier.
"The decision was taken by Willie O'Dea himself based on the controversy being pro-longed and how it was affecting as he saw it, the better working of government," he said.