Political turmoil: Labour and FG at war as Tanaiste jets out
Dail 'pairs' row hots up after Tanaiste cleared for US visit
FINE Gael and Labour were at war last night after Eamon Gilmore tripped up Enda Kenny and gave Tanaiste Mary Coughlan a free pass to take part in a jobs mission to the US.
The escalation in tensions between the main opposition parties follows opinion polls showing Labour challenging Fine Gael to lead the next government.
An increasingly desperate Fine Gael last night said the move showed Mr Gilmore would go into government with Fianna Fail after the next election -- a charge angrily rejected by Labour.
Fine Gael had effectively blocked Ms Coughlan's jobs and education mission to the US by refusing to match her with one of its TDs for Dail votes.
Mr Kenny said Ms Coughlan, the Education Minister, should have been in the Dail for ministerial questions on Wednesday, when Fine Gael hoped to quiz her on the FAS spending scandal.
But Labour heaped embarrassment on Mr Kenny by providing Ms Coughlan with a Dail voting 'pair', and the minister will fly to Chicago this afternoon to join up with the Enterprise Ireland officials on the jobs mission.
Pairings are usually given when ministers are away on official business. It means an opposition TD will not vote in the Dail to allow for the missing minister.
Fine Gael dug in on its new strategy of being stricter on pairs -- and was last night threatening three further jobs missions to major international markets.
A spokesman for Mr Kenny said pairs would only be given when ministers travel for EU business, for meetings with their counterparts in Northern Ireland and if they have long- term illnesses.
"No more pairs," the spokesman said. "They'll have to adjust to the new reality."
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe is to write to Fine Gael today demanding the party allow him travel to the key markets of the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil in the next two months.
Mr O'Keeffe's trips have been organised in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.
"I consider it prudent in the strategic interest of the country to request pairs as early as possible so that the trade missions can go ahead as planned," Mr O'Keeffe said last night.
His move came after a day when tensions between the two opposition parties were laid bare, as they sought to gain the political edge over each other.
Labour's education spokesman Ruairi Quinn, who volunteered to provide the pair pulled by Mr Kenny, said the Fine Gael move was a bad judgment call.
Labour does not usually provide pairs, as the arrangement is between the Government and Fine Gael, the main opposition party. But Mr Quinn -- who was given the green light by Mr Gilmore to allow the Tanaiste travel -- warned the Government the offer was a one-off.
"This is a one-off arrangement, based only on our belief that with more than 450,000 on the live register, no opportunity should be lost to attract investment from abroad in order to create jobs at home," Mr Quinn said.
He added that, as a former cabinet member, he knew how valuable a minister spearheading a trade mission could be.
"A minister, and in this case a deputy prime minister, opens doors and attracts attention," Mr Quinn said.
He also said trade missions -- which take months of planning by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland -- were just as important as ministerial trips to Brussels.
Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd accused Labour of letting the Government off the hook, and claimed Mr Gilmore would go into power with Fianna Fail after the next election.
"It is clear now that the only party guaranteed not to do a deal with Fianna Fail is Fine Gael," Mr O'Dowd said.
But this claim was strongly rejected by Mr Quinn, who said Labour remained "absolutely committed to the earliest possible removal of Fianna Fail from office".