Leadership crisis leaves party TDs between a rock and a hard place

THE staggering collapse in Fianna Fáil support under Taoiseach Brian Cowen leaves party TDs in a massive quandary.

The party has been abandoned and Mr Cowen humiliated by voters.

On one hand, there is little doubt that many Fianna Fáil TDs would prefer a new leader, someone with better communication skills and a more public-friendly demeanour.

The trouble is, if they launch a heave against Mr Cowen and force him out, it would almost certainty precipitate a general election.

And such an election would be disastrous, because at least 30 Fianna Fáil TDs, at a very conservative estimate, could expect to lose their jobs. So do they rescue their party or rescue themselves?

There is a handful of disaffected backbenchers who have already been agitating for months, and they will increase their anti-Cowen lobbying. But the vast majority of Fianna Fáil TDs will probably opt for self-preservation. They’ll grumble about Mr Cowen for sure, but won’t do anything about removing him, because to do so would be to put their own necks on the line in an election.

The Greens are in something of a similar quandary. Their support has ebbed away – that much was evidenced by the disastrous local elections endured by the party earlier this year, when its team of councillors across the country was almost wiped out.

Staying in coalition with Fianna Fáil is killing the Greens. But should they pull the plug, their six TDs face the exact same fate as many Fianna Fáil deputies – electoral obliteration.

And unlike Fianna Fáil, where most of the heavy hitters such as Willie O’Dea, Micheál Martin and Mr Cowen himself would survive an election because of substantial personal votes in their constituencies, none of the Greens are safe – not even party leader John Gormley.

So the Greens wouldn’t relish an election either. But there is an added complication for the party.

There is a slight chance – and it is very slight – that if they pull the plug, the public might give them some credit for getting Fianna Fáil out of power. It might be enough for some of their TDs to cling on.

However, if they don’t pull the plug, and the coalition comes crashing down anyway because a Fianna Fáil TD unexpectedly deserts the Government on a vote of conscience, the Greens will be in the worst of both worlds – facing an election, and not having caused it. They would have no selling point then – and it is doubtful any of their TDs would survive.

The Greens won’t have much time to decide. Talks have begun on the review of the Programme for Government, and are expected to conclude within a couple of weeks. The new programme will be put to Green Party members in October. If the leadership gets the commitments or concessions it wants from Fianna Fáil in the talks, the party may reluctantly decide it is best to stay put in coalition, and hope things will recover in time.

But they won’t. If Lisbon fails, Brian Cowen’s leadership is all but finished. If it passes, it will be at best a temporary reprieve. The Government will then have to push through NAMA and a deeply unpopular budget. It won’t be thanked for either. The coalition might make it through Christmas and into the new year. But it is very unlikely to see the end of 2010.


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