Tuesday 12 December 2017

Reeling in the years. . . odd couple lurched from calamity to chaos

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE Greens went in to Government with Fianna Fail in June 2007.

It was the ultimate marriage of convenience because many Green members were deeply suspicious of Fianna Fail and its close links to builders and property developers. But the idea was that the party would be able to introduce legislation that would help tackle climate change.

But then the economic crisis got in the way -- and the party has endured a chaotic three-and-a-half years with its coalition partners.

Here are some of the flashpoints and key moments in an unlikely and ill-fated relationship that lurched from one crisis to another.

The pre-nuptial

WHEN the Green Party entered Government Buildings for negotiations with Fianna Fail, they were greeted by the late Fianna Fail minister Seamus Brennan with the immortal words: "You are playing senior hurling now, lads, but you are playing with lads with All-Ireland medals."

THE Green Party was almost immediately under pressure due to the appearance of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the tribunal. In March 2008, Mr Ahern's former personal secretary Grainne Carruth admitted she had lodged sterling to his account. Green leader John Gormley said Mr Ahern had to clarify his evidence -- and Mr Ahern resigned shortly afterwards.

The initial public reaction was positive but the onset of the international financial crisis -- which would eventually fully expose the Irish property bubble -- was just months away.

THE people gave the wrong answer in the first referendum, in an embarrassing defeat for the Government. That meant another vote the following year. After the Government secured "guarantees" about Irish sovereignty from the EU, there was a strong two-to-one majority on the 'Yes' side.

THE most controversial episode of the Government's tenure -- until the IMF-EU bailout. At the time, the Government said guaranteeing €440bn of bank liabilities -- including those of the toxic Anglo Irish -- had saved the banking system. But the problems did not go away.

AS the financial crisis deepened, the Government announced its plans to take away automatic medical cards from over-70s -- and promptly found itself confronted with angry pensioners heckling ministers in churches and outside Leinster House. A hastily cobbled together compromise meant that most pensioners kept their medical cards.

THE public finances were in such a state the Government was forced to bring in an emergency Budget which introduced billions more in cuts. But unemployment continued to rise and the banking crisis worsened.

THE Green Party was almost wiped out in the local elections and Fianna Fail also suffered a hammering. There was also a shock for Fianna Fail in Dublin where MEP Eoin Ryan was beaten by the Socialist Party's Joe Higgins.

FIANNA Fail and the Greens succeeded in agreeing a revised Programme for Government that contained more green policies, such as a ban on corporate donations and a pledge to establish an all-powerful Dublin mayor's office. And the Government also managed to pass the legislation for the controversial bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency.

widespread flooding forced many people out of their homes. Mr Cowen travelled to Athlone to meet some of those affected -- but ended up being heckled by a woman about the Government's lack of assistance.

THE Government was rocked by the disclosure that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was battling cancer. But it got a boost when Mr Lenihan spoke bravely about his plans to stay on in his job and beat the illness.

THE country ground to a halt due to extreme weather. Councils ran out of grit and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey attracted unfavourable publicity by flying out on holidays to Malta. He returned early but the damage was done.

In the space of five weeks, there were five -- Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, Junior Minister Trevor Sargent, Green Party Senator Deirdre de Burca and Fine Gael TD George Lee. All bar Mr Lee's destabilised the Government.

JOHN Gormley introduced a bill to ban stag hunting to satisfy the animal welfare wing of the Greens. But it sparked a furious response from rural Fianna Fail TDs such as Mattie McGrath, who accused Mr Gormley of bullying his party into the move. Mr Gormley succeeded in passing the bill.

Brian Cowen had to face down questions about his leadership after a disastrous 'Morning Ireland' interview. He was forced to deny that he was drunk after staying up till 3.30am at the FF "think-in" in Galway. Mr Gormley backed Mr Cowen but the story made international headlines.

Marked the end of the Government. It was preceded by a disastrous series of denials that negotiations were taking place by government ministers -- but eventually Mr Cowen was forced to apply for a financial bailout.

THE Greens announced they wanted a general election in January and independent TDs Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry said it was highly unlikely they could support the Budget.

Irish Independent

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