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'Unbelievables' do it again

THE death knell sounded for the 30th Dail yesterday, and for much of the nation it was a joyful sound. The General Election announced for March 11 will not come soon enough for an electorate molten with anger at a bewildering catalogue of failures.

Yesterday's proceedings were without parallel and have moved beyond the wider reaches of GUBUism.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his Cabinet may in time become known as 'The Unbelievables'. Mr Cowen, who has singled himself out for his unique capacity to transform opportunity into disaster, produced a final flourish yesterday. Instead of raising the roof he brought it crashing down about his ears.

His attempt to spirit away six ministers in the small hours and produce half a dozen more "new lamps for old", made for a most undignified piece of political theatre.

For the Greens it was a farce too far. Their beatific ability to accept every slight visited upon them had simply been worn out.

Their leader John Gormley's revelation -- that he had told Mr Cowen that he was juggling with political hand-grenades and that he had warned him of the consequences -- was extraordinary.

The shell-shocked Government has now neither authority, credibility or trust, as attested by Mr Gormley.

The Greens had borne the indignity of the collapse of our banks, the mortgaging of the nation with the blanket guarantee.

They even stood by as the IMF took possession of an empty state purse; but Mr Cowen's tawdry attempt to conjure up a new political face for his party by presenting a different line-up was simply a stroke too far.

Their refusal to accept this represented the zenith of political mortification for a serving Taoiseach.

Removing from him the ability to appoint ministers diminishes the office.

At a time of historic crisis for the country, ministers who, we are informed, are already inundated with work, are to be given the added burden of carrying the reassigned portfolios.

However, abject humiliation for Mr Cowen is not the issue. The fact that the farcical series of events at Leinster House has made this country an international laughing stock is considerably more serious.

Since the opinion polls first registered abysmal lows for Fianna Fail, Mr Cowen's stewardship has been an issue.

His refusal to take heed of the unpopularity or to institute change had led many within his own ranks to believe that he was delusional.

But yesterday's astonishingly shambolic performance suggests that he had become desperate.

Since taking over from Bertie Ahern, Mr Cowen has been accused of putting the party first and the interests of the country second. It is a charge that is hard to refute in the light of yesterday's debacle.

The dysfunctional rationale that characterised Mr Cowen's behaviour was evident in the insight given to us by one of his most senior lieutenants, Mary Hanafin, earlier in the week. Ms Hanafin expressed that she had no difficulty in supporting Mr Cowen as Taoiseach, but she could not back him to lead her party.

She did not seem to appreciate the dichotomy in the notion that a leader might be good enough to take charge of one's country, but not have the skill sets to lead one's party.

These past few days will be marked as a dismal period for public office.

The spectacle of more than a dozen Fianna Fail TDs lining up to jump ship to "spend more time with their pensions", as one politician quipped, was ignominious.

Mr Cowen has been lampooned as the captain of the Titanic, but this is an unfair comparison, for even the captain of the Titanic was able to rearrange the deck chairs, and was ultimately sunk by an iceberg.

Mr Cowen was holed beneath the waterline by the hubris of high office.

It is a sad reflection on current events that this St Patrick's Day, Washington will not have a delegation from Ireland.

The election will have been held, but it will be too soon to have the offices of State filled.

Yet perhaps it is appropriate that Capitol Hill will not be en fete in Emerald Green this year. The absence will be telling. It may symbolise a void where nobody was in charge. nobody accountable, or ready to take responsibility.

There are no vital signs left in this Government. Seldom if ever has a political epitaph been so eagerly anticipated.

Irish Independent