The slow death of the Green Party is turning out to be even more agonising than expected. As things stand, we still don't know whether or not the junior coalition partners intend to rotate their ministers in the forthcoming reshuffle.
What we do know for now is that they are twisting in the wind -- and the longer they allow this controversy to drag on, the more it looks as if they care more about their own jobs than the 434,000 people in the dole queues.
The embarrassment coming out of the Green camp over the last 24 hours has been plain for all to see. John Gormley has flatly refused to discuss the issue at all, while even the party's Twitter-in-chief Dan Boyle has been posting messages about the fascinating subject of uranium instead. They know well that this story should have been strangled at birth -- but now that it's out in the big bad media world, it may be already too late to prevent it from growing into a monster.
Nobody is denying the essential truth behind the dispute, which is that the Greens hammered out a secret deal between themselves when they first entered government in mid-2007.
They decided that half-way through the Dail term -- that is, around now -- Gormley would hand his cabinet position over to Ciaran Cuffe while Trevor Sargent would give up his junior post in favour of Mary White. Eamon Ryan would be allowed to stay put, possibly as a reward for not challenging Gormley for the leadership in the aftermath of Sargent's resignation.
It was a bad idea then and it looks even worse today. Ever since Gormley became Minister for the Environment, he has excused his various policy failures by pleading that he needs more time. Walking away from the job early would look like an abject admission of failure, the most glaring example of all being his apparent inability to stop the hated Poolbeg Incinerator from being built in his own back yard.
The details of this backroom deal also cast the Trevor Sargent scandal in a whole new light. If the former leader had been planning to step aside soon anyway, then his resignation may not have been the heroic self-sacrifice that it first appeared after all. In fact, he should be grateful that this newspaper broke the story when we did -- because if he'd been a mere backbencher, the only possible punishment would have been for him to give up his Dail seat.
The Greens have now been left with the worst of both worlds, left to stew in their own juices while the reshuffle speculation continues up to St Patrick's Day and beyond. Part of the blame must go to Brian Cowen, whose lethargic handling of the affair has once again shown up the sense of drift that lies behind so many of this government's failures. The real problem, however, is the sheer amateurishness of a party obsessed with their own internal divisions and apparently devoid of even the most basic media management skills.
For the first 20 years of their existence, the Green Party made do without a leader at all. The way things are going, they may soon have to give that option another try.