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Andrew Lynch: GREEN TREASON -- How they betrayed their nation to attract cheap, self-pitying publicity

Well, John Gormley has really done it now. With his petulant and self-serving decision to serve notice on the coalition, the Green Party leader has only succeeded in plunging the country into an even greater sense of crisis.

As anyone could have told him, demanding a general election in January is a bit like asking for a divorce but staying in the family home for another two months -- and by doing it on the eve of the most important budget in Irish history, he has shown yet again why his party are just not fit to play in the political premier league.

Brian Cowen, on the other hand, saved his best until last. His performance at last night's press conference in Government Buildings was strong, calm and showed an impressive degree of grace under pressure.

If he had produced a bit more of that form over the last two years, he might have managed to avoid this mess -- but instead, his support within Fianna Fail is crumbling so rapidly that his days as Taoiseach are clearly numbered.

So what happens next?

Political events are moving so rapidly that only a fool would predict with any certainty where we are likely to be by the end of the week.

What we do know is that the timing of a general election rests with the decisions taken by three men -- and now that his treasonous act has left him looking completely irrelevant, John Gormley is not one of them.

The first is obviously Cowen himself. Does the Taoiseach really believe he can pass a budget and finance bill through the Dail before going to the country, even if that process drags on until February or March? And can he be persuaded to step aside as FF leader or will he have to be taken out by a bloody coup?

The second is the man who intends to be the next Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Right now the FG leader is claiming that he'd be happy with an election on Christmas Day, but he could do us all a huge favour by deciding instead that his party will vote for the budget as long as they are given a say in drawing it up.

That might cost him a few votes when the country finally goes to the polls early next year -- but it would undeniably be in the national interest.

The third is Ajai Chopra, the Indian head of the IMF delegation in Dublin who's been sent to rescue the cowboys. How long is Chopper prepared to hang around while the Irish sort out their domestic political row? Is there a danger that he might threaten to withdraw any loan offer if the budget is not passed, a move that really would leave us stranded in no-man's land?

While the mood in Leinster House is utterly confused right now, it's important to remember that at least one thing is fairly certain. Barring a political earthquake, a FG- Labour coalition will be running the country by next spring at the latest.

That's why Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore need to stop squabbling over who will lead the next government -- and start intensive negotiations over what that government will actually do.

Our main problem now is that party leaders such as Gormley are behaving like bankers, looking out for their own selfish interests instead of being honest about the scale of the financial crisis.

There is obviously something absurd about a four-year plan being produced by a government that will be lucky to survive four more weeks.

However, our fiscal position is so grave that the political system simply has to find some way to restore some measure of certainty -- and that means passing a budget on December 7.

Thanks to John Gormley's stupid and reckless actions, Brian Cowen is now a caretaker Taoiseach. The big difference is that Cowen still has a chance to do the State some service before he finally has to turn out the lights.

By announcing that he will not lead FF into the general election, he can draw a line under the past -- and give himself a chance to leave the stage with at least a bit of dignity intact.