THE Green Party yesterday dramatically pulled out of Government and reduced the number of remaining ministers to the absolute constitutional minimum.
There are now only seven ministers running the country after Environment Minister John Gormley and Energy Minister Eamon Ryan tendered their resignations to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
The party's six TDs will cross over to the opposition benches where they will support the Finance Bill as they begin the long struggle to avoid political wipeout in the imminent general election.
In a statement last night, Mr Cowen announced the resignations of Mr Ryan and Mr Gormley had been accepted by President Mary McAleese.
Mr Gormley's department has been assigned to the Social Protection and Defence Minister, Eamon O Cuiv; while Mr Ryan's department has been given to Pat Carey, who is already responsible for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs and also Transport.
The resignations of Green Party junior ministers Ciaran Cuffe and Mary White were also accepted last night.
Dr Theresa Reidy of University College Cork (UCC) claimed the Government was now at the "absolute bear minimum" allowed under the Constitution.
The Constitution clearly states there must be no less than seven ministers and no more than 15, Dr Reidy said.
"It's a very specific and clear requirement. What we have now is exceptional and has never happened before," she said.
The Greens were adamant the Finance Bill could be passed quickly, which would then trigger an early general election. But they were desperate to receive "co-operation" from the opposition parties and thus spared the dilemma of whether to support the Government or Taoiseach in a motion of no confidence on Wednesday night.
The Green Party announced it was pulling out of Government in the same room in the Merrion Hotel where Mr Cowen announced he was standing down as Fianna Fail leader only 24 hours earlier.
The "watershed" moment for the party came last week when they were left out of the loop over the co-ordinated resignations of Fianna Fail ministers and the Taoiseach's plans to undertake a major reshuffle of ministers.
Mr Gormley said members had felt "betrayed" over last week's debacle. And the lingering Fianna Fail leadership saga, he said, had been a "total distraction" from the business of government.
The Fianna Fail-led Coalition has been reliant on the Green Party's support since 2007.
The party pledged to support the Finance Bill because it is in the "national interests" and will provide "economic stability".
Mr Ryan last night argued that the legislation could be simplified and any technical difficulties overcome to ensure it could be passed in a matter of days and not weeks.
In November, the Greens announced they would stay in Government until the IMF deal was in place, the Budget was passed and the Finance Bill had passed all stages.