Thursday 23 January 2020

Fionnan Sheahan: In the end it was Willie who shot himself in foot

Fionnan Sheahan

THE Green Party got a scalp last night, despite their own best efforts to let the resignation slip away.

Just 24 hours after five Green TDs voted confidence in Willie O'Dea, the party was a major factor in his resignation.

The Greens had a massive credibility problem to contend with yesterday.

When they rolled through the voting lobbies in the Dail chamber at 5.40pm on Wednesday, the Greens had cowed to the will of their coalition partners.

Nervous about pressure being brought to bear on the Greens over the course of the weekend, Fianna Fail determined to kill off the attempts to have their minister fired over his false statement under oath.

The Dail passed the motion of confidence in the Defence Minister by 80 votes to 69.

The Greens' votes technically wouldn't have defeated O'Dea, but his position would have been untenable if they did not back him. It proved to be a stroke too far.

However, the Greens still have to explain how their views on a cabinet minister changed so profoundly in the space of a day.

The mood certainly changed overnight. The lack of conciliation in O'Dea's statement was certainly notable. And he singularly failed to apologise for his actions.

Instead, he chose to launch an attack on Fine Gael.

His overly frank admission that the brothel allegations came from the gardai caused a great deal of consternation.

But the Greens still voted for him and their stance will forever be shown on the record.

While some of their TDs may have been reluctant to back him, they didn't express a word of criticism.

Dan Boyle set the tone within the party by clearly stating he wasn't happy.

As a senator, the party chairman didn't have to vote earlier in the day.

"As regards to Minister O'Dea I don't have confidence in him. His situation is compromised. Probably be a few chapters in this story yet," he said on Wednesday night.

BUT the frequently outspoken senator has found himself too often out on a limb and there was a suspicion the party was again speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

By morning Green Party TD Paul Gogarty was explaining the reservations of the party, but still "ethically but not legally wrong". In the eyes of the Greens, O'Dea was wrong, but it wasn't a sackable offence and they weren't going to bring down the Coalition.

The continued pressure from the opposition showed the issue wasn't going to pass.

A motion of no confidence was going to be tabled in the Dail next week, forcing Boyle to follow up on his stand.

At high noon, the Green ministers, TDs and senators were holding crisis talks about their position on O'Dea. The Defence Minister's grilling by RTE's Sean O'Rourke didn't help his cause one iota.

"I'm a victim," will go down in the annals as one of the most ill-advised quotes in quite some time.

Rather like Rody Molloy's interview with Pat Kenny 18 months ago, it was hard to see a comeback.

By lunchtime, there was a smell of blood around Leinster House added to the whiff of panic produced by the Government needing the casting vote of Ceann Comhairle to avoid losing a vote in the Dail.

Cowen's half-hearted defence of O'Dea, repeatedly pointing to the motion of confidence the previous day added to the sense of doom around the Defence Minister.

The Greens had run to the top of the hill, again, and had no choice but to follow through on this occasion.

Pulling out of Government wasn't really an option.

For what?

After standing by Bertie Ahern through his tribunal testimony, sticking with Brian Cowen after his predecessor stood down, backing Mary Harney over her handling of the health service, hanging in for bruising cutbacks and Budgets and backing the bank guarantee scheme and NAMA plan, this wasn't the issue for the Greens to walk over.

When Cowen met Gormley yesterday afternoon, both knew O'Dea's term was over. Despite his loyalty to his friend, the Taoiseach isn't politically stupid.

The Green Party will salvage some credibility from this affair.

Ultimately though, they weren't the ones who pushed the issue over recent weeks.

Fine Gael Senator Eugene Regan can take the credit for highlighting the inherent contradiction of O'Dea's version of events.

His party's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan joined him and party leader Enda Kenny brought it to a head. Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, along with FG's Brian Hayes and Labour's Joan Burton also played important roles.

When there were bales of hay stacked high on O'Dea's back, it's hard to tell which was the straw to break it.

A combination of factors and a political storm combined to bring him down.

Timing played a key factor. The O'Dea affair took two months to come to prominence.

When it did, the hurricane whipped up fast.

The Defence Minister's case shows you can only postpone the inevitable -- not cancel it completely.

O'Dea's approach to the affair didn't help his cause. His attacks on Regan and Fine Gael were provocative to say the least.

The bleating about ethics is undermined by the delay in the opposition parties putting it firmly on the agenda.

Pure politics brought down the political animal.

Irish Independent

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