Sunday 19 November 2017

Cowen to resist holding key vote

Government will fight by-election bid in court

John Drennan

John Drennan

The Government intends to fight Sinn Fein's legal action to compel it to hold the Donegal by-election, the Sunday Independent has confirmed.

In October, the High Court is scheduled to hear judicial review proceedings challenging the constitutionality of the Government's failure to go before the people.

Back in 1994, the threat of a court case against the then Fianna Fail/Labour administration's failure to hold a pending by-election was resolved when the government called the election rather than face the embarrassment of a costly court action.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, whose mandate is already under severe strain, would inevitably face criticism if taxpayers' money was spent on a high-powered legal defence and the Government was then compelled by the courts to face the electorate in three pending by-elections.

A senior legal source told the Sunday Independent that the fact that the judges decided there was a case to be heard sent "a strong signal to the Government that the courts would rule in favour of the Sinn Fein petition''.

The Government is also likely to face severe criticism over the €100,000 costs of any such case. It is believed that the costs of defending such an action would be higher than the actual cost of the by-election.

In spite of these factors, the Sunday Independent has learned that the Government is still intent on having the matter decided by the courts.

The three by-elections may be the starting gun for an early general election. Currently, if the non-aligned independents Finian McGrath, Joe Behan and Maureen O'Sullivan vote with FG and Labour, the opposition has 78 Dail votes.

However, should the opposition win the three by-elections, the increasingly fragile Coalition would need to retain the support of figures such as the former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, who recently attended a function for FG frontbench TD Phil Hogan, where Enda Kenny controversially asked Lowry if he had an application form in his pocket, if it is to remain in power.

The Government would also need to retain the support of controversial independent FF TD Jim McDaid, who has said he wants a general election sooner rather than later.

The Government is also dependent on the support of an increasingly alienated Mattie McGrath.

Sunday Independent

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