Irish government falls and calls 11 March poll

Fianna Fail fears painful defeat after mass cabinet resignations

The Irish Government collapsed yesterday, with multiple ministerial resignations propelling Prime Minister Brian Cowen into setting 11 March as the date for a general election. His Fianna Fail party, which dominates the government, is widely expected to be largely wiped out in the contest, since under the Cowen leadership it has slumped to unprecedented depths in opinion polls.

When he took over as Prime Minister in 2008 he had already built a reputation as a heavyweight bruiser who had mastered his previous brief as minister for finance. But as the months passed, the economic policies he had helped to formulate came to be seen as ruinous, and he looked incapable of dealing with problems which became mountainous.

In recent months he was damaged by "Garglegate", when he was judged to have performed badly in a morning radio interview after a late night of drinking with journalists and others. Next came "Golfgate" when we learnt that as finance minister he had played golf and had dinner with the banker Sean Fitzpatrick, regarded as possibly Ireland's most toxic figure, since he above all others is blamed for the economic disaster.

Many Fianna Fail members of the Dail, the Irish parliament, have announced they are not standing again, because they are unlikely to be re-elected or because they realise they will face years in opposition.

The election was precipitated during a day of turmoil after the small Green party, which has kept Fianna Fail in power, called for a contest in March. Four Fianna Fail ministers, plus a long-time supporter, then announced their resignations. In what is viewed in Dublin as an extraordinary move, Mr Cowen then redistributed their portfolios with some of his remaining ministers taking on extra responsibilities. Mary Hanafin, for example, has become Minister for Trade, Enterprise, Innovation, Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Mr Cowen has clung to power with great determination but these and other recent blows are combining to prise his tenacious fingers from the levers of power. His administration has for months shown signs of steady disintegration, with senior members and backbenchers making it clear they believed Mr Cowen's days in office were numbered.

Last year, under intense pressure, he was forced to promise an election early this year after legislation enacting December's tough budget. But since then the possibility of an early contest has slipped, with the most recent rumours suggesting the date could be in April. In the meantime, Mr Cowen has adopted almost a bunker mentality, apparently intent on buying time on an almost day-to-day basis.

This ultra-defensive strategy has brought no revival in the fortunes of his party, which has traditionally been the largest in the Irish Republic but recently hit a record low of 13 per cent in the opinion polls.

This has led to predictions that Fianna Fail could drop from more than 70 seats to fewer than 20, a result which would represent a seismic change in Ireland's political patterns. There are certainly obvious signs of a widespread loss of public confidence in Fianna Fail. A disaffected backbencher said recently: "The people just don't trust us. We got arrogant and got disconnected and wouldn't listen. The people are very angry and you can't blame them."

The next question is whether Mr Cowen will achieve his wish of leading his party into the election, given that much of his cabinet has resigned in an apparently concerted move.

The hurriedly arranged stopgap ministerial appointments were one element in a day of undignified turmoil for the government. Yesterday Conor Lenihan, a government minister whose brother Brian is a contender for the party leadership, said Mr Cowen's authority and credibility had been eroded and he should resign. Fianna Fail supporters were looking on in horror at what was happening, he added.

Although many politicians would long ago have given up and retired from the fray, the Cowen combination of stubbornness and aggression means he has stood his ground.

His administration was forced to turn to the IMF and EU for a bailout because it could not cope with Ireland's economic woes. Mr Cowen suffered much self-inflicted damage when, until the last moment, he maintained that no such bailout was being sought, cementing his reputation as Ireland's great non-communicator.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas