FINE Gael and Labour last night joined forces to ridicule the Taoiseach's "appalling" botched attempt to appoint new ministers just weeks away from the General Election.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that Brian Cowen had overseen the "worst Government in history", but welcomed the sense of "finality" that had now come with the announcement of a March 11 election date.
The botched attempt to appoint up to five new ministers was "appalling", he said.
"As head of government, to expect that he could make new appointments to government without consulting the propping-up party, as it were, was, in my view, giving the back of the hand to the voice of democracy," Mr Kenny said.
Earlier, during robust exch-anges in the Dail that had to be suspended twice, Mr Kenny directly called on the Taoiseach to resign immediately.
And he claimed that Fianna Fail had attempted to "pull the wool" over the eyes of their junior coalition partners in the Greens by not informing them of their plans to reshuffle senior ministries.
The Fine Gael leader and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore used the announcement of an election date to make their opening election pitches.
Mr Gilmore said that Mr Cowen had "lost his authority" after failing to implement his "political stroke" of appointing backbench TDs to key portfolios so close to an election. Last night, he appeared to be backing away from a motion of no confidence in the Government, which was due to be debated in the Dail next week.
This will spare any blushes on the Fianna Fail backbenches and in the Green Party, which would have been called on to vote in line with the Taoiseach.
When the controversial no confidence motion was tabled, at the height of Fianna Fail's leadership heave last week, Mr Gilmore had been seeking a definitive election date and an end to the current Government.
But Mr Gilmore said the party would now "reflect on whether it is necessary to proceed with it".
"We'd prefer the election to be earlier. . . but it is settled now," Mr Gilmore said.
A spokesman for the party last night claimed no final decision had been made on the motion, but a decision would be made this morning. Sources said it was now "less likely" to go ahead after the announcement of an election date.
Fine Gael publicly criticised the timing of the motion last week, claiming that it would galvanise Fianna Fail TDs at a time when they were feuding.
After an extraordinary day in the Dail, Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said there was widespread relief and satisfaction that the end of the Fianna Fail-Green Government was now in sight.
"The extraordinary events of the past 24 hours have seen an embattled Taoiseach make a huge miscalculation, thinking he could pull the cynical political stroke of appointing new cabinet ministers a few weeks before a General Election," Mr O Caolain said.
"Both Fianna Fail and the Greens deserve to be devastated at the polls on March 11."