| 7.4°C Dublin

Andrew Lynch: Green coalition rocked by cabinet climate change and a toxic atmosphere

A little-known fact about Trevor Sargent: as a young man on holidays in Spiddal in the mid-'80s, he provided backing vocals for the celebrated Waterboys album Fisherman's Blues.

Today the ex-junior minister is singing the blues again, this time with the entire Green Party as his backing band.

As Dan Boyle put it on his now-famous Twitter account, "We're hurting" -- and however hard they try to put a brave face on it, the resignation of their spiritual leader has shaken the junior coalition partners to their very core.

From the moment that Sargent confirmed the truth of yesterday's Herald exclusive, his fate was sealed.

Damage

What remains to be seen is just how much damage the revelation has done to the already toxic relationship between the Greens and FF -- and whether or not a government whose members are dropping like flies can make it all the way to 2012 before finally facing the electorate.

While the seriousness of Sargent's offence should not be overlooked, he has been deservedly praised for the manner in which he fell on his sword immediately instead of trying to brazen it out.

Because he appears to have been guilty of pure stupidity rather than anything malicious, there is no real pressure on him to give up his Dail seat in Dublin North as well.

With not-so-clever Trevor off the pitch, the political row has veered off in a different direction. Not surprisingly, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day with the delicate question of how exactly the letters proving that Sargent tried to interfere with a garda investigation became public.

As Elvis Presley famously sang, "We can't go on together with suspicious minds" -- and no matter how true or untrue they are, rumours such as these could be incredibly damaging to the fragile bonds of trust that are just about holding this coalition together.

During last week's Dail debate over Willie O'Dea, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore sarcastically asked Brian Cowen to stop humiliating the Greens.

In fact, they're doing a pretty good job of it themselves. With Deirdre de Burca's hissy fit exposing internal divisions, the party that's always seen itself as a family rather than an organisation is now on the verge of a full-blown identity crisis.

The Sargent scandal will hurt them particularly badly because it goes to the heart of their self-image of being somehow more virtuous than other parties.

The slogan 'Green politics is clean politics' will never sound quite the same again, a fact for which they seem to blame FF rather than themselves.

The atmosphere in Government Buildings is now eerily similar to the dying days of Albert Reynolds' administration in 1994, when FF and Labour's mutual hatred spilled out into the open with inevitable consequences.

Right now, this Government seems to be falling to pieces in front of our eyes.

In the space of two weeks we've had the resignations of a Cabinet minister, a junior minister and a senator.

All we need now is a Taoiseach to complete the set -- and unless Cowen asserts his authority, his head could well be next on the chopping block.

There are now clear signs that he will use Willie O'Dea's departure to have a proper Cabinet reshuffle, if not this week then soon after Easter.

Rumoured

Sargent's exit will not help much, since he will have to be replaced by another Green (in the interests of gender balance, deputy leader Mary White will probably get the nod).

Martin Cullen is rumoured to be on the brink of retiring over a back complaint, but Cowen will still need to swing the axe if he wants to give his ministerial team a genuine facelift.

All this, however, will mean nothing if FF and the Greens can't find some way to patch up their working relationship.

True, theirs was never more than a marriage of convenience. For the sake of their political children, however, they have no real choice but to rub along together for another two years before heading for the divorce courts.

For now, one question above all others is being urgently whispered around the corridors of Leinster House.

After George, Deirdre, Willie and Trevor -- who's next?


Privacy