Opposition aiming for by-election clean sweep
Government urged to hold three potentially disastrous June polls
The Government will come under sustained pressure to hold three by-elections in June, a year after the former Fianna Fail minister Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher resigned on his election to the European Parliament.
The Government would still have a slim majority even if it lost all three by-elections, but the opposition would be able to create an unstoppable momentum towards a General Election.
The three by-elections due are: Donegal South West, to replace Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher; Dublin South, to replace former Fine Gael TD George Lee and Waterford, to replace former Fianna Fail minister Martin Cullen.
A writ of election may be initiated by the political party whose seat is vacant. But Fine Gael has yet to select a candidate to contest the vacancy left by Mr Lee.
Even when Fine Gael chooses a candidate, however, a writ of election is ultimately issued by the Government.
Therefore, the timing of such a move rests with the Government.
Yesterday, a Fine Gael spokesman said the party had agreed a candidate for the Donegal South West by-election, and would chose a candidate on Thursday for the Waterford by-election.
A date had yet to be set for a convention on the Dublin South by-election.
The spokesman maintained that Fine Gael was anxious that all three by-elections be held simultaneously this June.
He denied any suggestion that Fine Gael would privately prefer to stay in opposition until after the next Budget.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan confirmed that he planned a further €3bn in cuts in that Budget, including €1bn from capital spending.
The possibility remains that should the economy return to growth later this year and into next year that popular support for the Government parties, and Fianna Fail in particular, may start to rise.
Fine Gael, therefore, will have to carefully time its effort to collapse the Government.
It runs the risk of missing the boat should the economy return to growth and the popularity of the Government to some meaningful extent rise with it.
A Fine Gael spokesman said yesterday: "Fine Gael wants all three by-elections held this June. Fine Gael is anxious that this Government be removed as soon as possible and that our party leads the next [Government] for the first of its five-year terms."
There is no strict requirement on the Government to hold a by-election.
It waited almost a year before it held a by-election to fill the vacancy left by the death of former minister Seamus Brennan, whose seat was won by Mr Lee.
A year is thought to be the outer limit before a by-election be held.
Therefore, the Government will come under increasing pressure to fill the vacancy left by Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher this June.
If the Government agrees to hold one by-election, it will be further pressurised to hold all three on the same day.
The Government currently has an 84-78 majority, assuming it will secure the support of its three TDs who had lost the party whip -- Jimmy Devins, Eamon Scanlon and Jim McDaid.
Its majority is also contingent on the continuing support of Jackie Healy Rae and Michael Lowry.
Should the Government lose all three by-elections, its majority would be cut to just three votes.
In that event, all it would require is for two TDs currently supporting the Government to 'cross the floor' and the Government would fall.
The expectation is that former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry will eventually decide to vote against the Government.
The Greens, meanwhile, are anxiously awaiting the publication of the report of the Moriarty Tribunal.