Wednesday 22 November 2017

FG pile by-election pressure on Cowen

Michael Brennan and Fionnan Sheahan

PRESSURE mounted on Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night over his point-blank refusal to hold three by-elections which could further loosen his grip on power.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny last night revealed his party would force the Government to vote on the issue of the Waterford by-election in the Dail next week.

"You have three pending by-elections and the Government has no intention of holding any of them. If Mr Cowen has courage to defend Martin Cullen's seat, it was a Fianna Fail seat, let them do it," he told the Irish Independent.

Speaking in Cork, Mr Kenny said of the Taoiseach: "He hasn't the courage to come out and say: 'Yes, I made a mistake. I apologise to the Irish people.' The best thing he can do is to have his by-elections or else have a general election and let the people have their mandate."

Mr Cowen is also facing discontent from some of his own government backbenchers over his refusal to rule out cutting the old-age pension in the next Budget.

Former PD TD Noel Grealish has stated that he would not support such a move. Fianna Fail Cork North Central TD Noel O'Flynn also threatened to vote against the next Budget if it contained a cut.

Yesterday, Mr Cowen again refused to give a date for any of the by-elections -- despite the fact that voters in Donegal South-West have been missing a TD for almost one year.

His embattled coalition has a slim majority of just six votes. And this margin would be cut to three if -- as expected -- the Government lost the elections in Donegal, Dublin South and Waterford.

Earlier, Mr Cowen steadfastly refused to reveal when the three by-elections would take place. "No, I'm not giving you that answer," he told RTE 'News at One' host Sean O'Rourke, before curtly adding: "Don't worry about it."

He added: "We will make sure those by-elections will be held in due course. But there's no decision by Government in that respect."

Donegal South-West has had a Dail vacancy since Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher was elected MEP last June.

Dublin South has been open since former Fine Gael TD George Lee quit in February.

Waterford has been left short a Dail representative since former minister Martin Cullen stepped down in March.

There is no time limit in the Constitution for the holding of a by-election.

But if it lost the three by-elections, it would be even more dependent on the Greens, the ex-PDs and Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae to survive.

No Government has won a by-election for almost 30 years -- the last occasion being the victory of Fianna Fail's Noel Treacy in Galway East in 1982.

Last week, the Government embarrassingly needed the casting vote of Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk to defeat a call for the holding of the Donegal South West by-election after two confused Fianna Fail TDs voted the wrong way.

It will now be under further pressure to ensure the Fine Gael attempt to hold the Waterford by-election is defeated in the Dail next week.

Sinn Fein senator Pearse Doherty, who is set to run for his party in Donegal South West, also criticised the delay in holding the by-election.

"It's an absolute disgrace that the Taoiseach still feels that he can decide not to hold the Donegal South West by-election nearly a year into the vacancy occurring."

He said that it was wrong to claim that Fianna Fail's Mr Gallagher was still representing the constituency, after his election as an MEP.

"The reality is that he is not present in the Dail to cast his vote on major issues."

Irish Independent

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