BRIAN COWEN’S DECISION to double-up on ministerial positions to cover this week’s cabinet resignations has drawn heavy criticism in the Dáil.
The opposition parties all welcomed the Taoiseach’s confirmation of a specific election date, but criticised the ministers’ decisions to resign en masse.
Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Labour all claimed that Cowen decided to divide the now-available portfolios among current ministers rather than appoint new people, which would require putting their appointment before the Dáil.
Enda Kenny said “the fact that the government are unable to fill the front bench seats speaks of the level to which this has descended”.
Labour’s Eamon Gilmore said it appeared that the Taoiseach no longer had the authority to appoint members of his government. He claimed Cowen had “attempted a stroke, and it backfired” by “attempting an arrangement” which would have prolonged the life of his government. Instead, he said, the “whistle has been blown on that”.
Cowen could have gone to President McAleese this morning and brought the election date forward to 11 February, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin claimed. He said that three weeks from the announcement is within the scope of the statutory requirements for holding an election.
Citing the ESRI’s projected emigration figures of 100,000 people over the next two years, Ó Caoláin said it was a damning indictment of the this government – “a lame duck Taoiseach with a lame duck government”.
Gilmore criticised the Taoiseach’s handling of the resignations and the election date, claiming his announcement could and should have been made this morning to avoid “the chaos” and “sense of disintegration that has prevailed this morning”.
Gilmore also queried why ministers who had previously indicated they would not contest the election resigned their ministerial offices today, so close to that election, and “why it is necessary for them all to do so” on one day.
One notable absence from the Dáil chamber this afternoon was the Green Party – none of its TDs were present as a party meeting was continuing outside the chamber.
Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter said it was a precedent in the Dáil on such an occasion for all the leaders of the parties to speak. Referring to John Gormley, Shatter asked if the Dáil would hear from “Banquo’s ghost”.
Ó Caoláin said the Green Party’s “absence speaks volumes”, saying he believed they quite clearly “were not up for” Cowen’s announcement this afternoon regarding the cabinet positions. He said he thought “they felt this was the straw which would break the camel’s back; they’ve indicated that to you very clearly”.
The opposition party leaders said they were looking ahead to the elections in March.
Gilmore said that 300,000 people had lost their jobs over the course of this recession, and “what we need from here on is to restore hope and confidence in this country”. “It’s best things are ahead,” he said.
Kenny said that on the 11 March, “the people will have their say” and they “will decide what kind of government they want to represent them for the future”.
He added: “We believe we should get Ireland working again”.