We're in meltdown. Moment may be ripe for a new party

The events at Leinster House yesterday have rocked Fianna Fail to the core.

TD colleagues walked around the Dail in a shellshocked condition, as if a bomb had gone off.

The setting of the election date for March 11 was perhaps incidental in most TDs' minds.

The circumstances and nature of the breakdown of the coalition are the source of fury to my colleagues.

Many TDs wandered bewildered around Leinster House wondering what had got into the Taoiseach's head.

The Taoiseach's effort to execute a belated Cabinet reshuffle in spite of the Greens' utter opposition has effectively wrecked Fianna Fail -- the election hasn't even started and the party is in meltdown.

And whatever about the party, the damage to Ireland's reputation abroad has been immense.

Whether Fianna Fail TDs like it or not, the leadership issue has been reopened.

There is no avoiding the issue now.

There is little point blaming the Greens fore these events. The buck stops with Brian Cowen.

You cannot run roughshod over your coalition colleagues, and it is beyond belief that the Taoiseach would attempt to do so.

If Fianna Fail does not solve the Brian Cowen issue quickly then the disintegration and disappearance of the party is inevitable.

It is also possible that, if Brian Cowen does not resign, there will be a series of splits in the party.

And on top of that, it's also possible that individual TDs will desert and run as independents.

The unthinkable has already occurred. It is not beyond the realms of the imagination that some may consider establishing a new party called 'New Fianna Fail'.

Brian Cowen has not a shred of credibility left.

Respect for the office of Taoiseach has been shattered.

The behaviour of Brian Cowen is a kick in the face for the voluntary activists who pound the pavements for the party year in and year out. For the first time in my life I felt angry and utterly ashamed of the leadership of our party. Brian Cowen has done a catastrophic disservice to politics.

The damage will be felt by all parties, as ordinary party activists try to persuade voters to even bother going out to vote at all.

Conor Lenihan is a Dail Deputy for Dublin South West and Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation