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FF and Greens clash over botched Cabinet reshuffle

The coalition Government was on a knife edge today as senior Fianna Fail and Green representatives clashed over Taoiseach Brian Cowen's botched Cabinet reshuffle.

Trevor Sargent, a former Green junior minister, claimed the Taoiseach was told that a plan to parachute in six new ministers after late-night resignations would "go down like a lead balloon".

The Dublin North TD claimed communications minister Eamon Ryan, who joins the Taoiseach in Armagh today for a north-south ministerial council meeting, warned Mr Cowen a reshuffle so close to an election would be seen as a political stroke.

"It was very, very strongly stated that this was not a good idea, (that) it was a mistake. And later on, if it did go to a vote, we said we could not support it," Mr Sargent said.

"You can't get much clearer than that."

Government chief whip John Curran argued that the Taoiseach had not been told that the Greens would not support new appointments if it came to a vote.

"Yes the Green Party did indicate that there were issues of perception that they were uncomfortable with," Mr Curran said.

"But at no time did they say they would not support it. They gave no indication they would not vote for it."

The coalition was on the brink of collapse yesterday after four resignations late on Wednesday and a fifth on Thursday morning.

After an hour of disarray and chaos in the Dail, business had to be suspended for two hours until Mr Cowen was compelled to make a statement to restore order.

The Cabinet positions were left empty after Mary Harney quit health, Dermot Ahern justice, Tony Killeen defence and Noel Dempsey transport. Batt O'Keeffe then quit enterprise.

Mr Cowen had already taken charge of foreign affairs after rebel TD Micheal Martin failed in a challenge to the Fianna Fail leadership.

Green leader John Gormley claimed yesterday he learnt of the resignations from his wife and on the news.

The portfolios were reassigned with Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, already in charge of education, given health, agriculture minister Brendan Smith given justice, social protection minister Eamon O Cuiv given the defence brief, and Pat Carey, minister for Gaeltacht, community and rural affairs handed transport.

Tourism minister Mary Hanafin, who claimed she warned the Taoiseach not to try a reshuffle so close to an election, was given enterprise.

The general election will be held on March 11.

The Labour Party is to decide today whether to press ahead with a motion of no confidence in the Government next week.

PA Media

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