THE Taoiseach angrily hit back at accusations his Government was “riven by internal tension” in the wake of claims that Trevor Sargent was forced from office as part of a Fianna Fáil plot to avenge Willie O’Dea’s fall.
Furious exchanges in the Dáil saw Labour’s Eamon Gilmore dismiss the Government as “broken”.
Mr Gilmore said the Coalition had thrown away public confidence due to the “staleness and fatigue” of being in power for 13 years, and added events like the failure to secure 300 hi-tech jobs for Dublin Airport which Ryanair said it was ready to offer in return for Government flexibility proved the Cowen administration was “punch drunk” from economic failure.
“It is not responsible for you with a battered, broken, tired and now divided Government to continue to hang on to office in circumstances and in times in which people need a competent functioning government. The iceberg has struck, it is now only a matter of time,” said Mr Gilmore.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny branded the coalition parties as “divided by suspicion and lack of trust”. Mr Kenny accused the Taoiseach of trying to “defend the indefensible” in the way he tried to keep Willie O’Dea in Cabinet despite the minister admitting he swore an untrue affidavit to the High Court.
Mr Kenny compared the turmoil and ugly scenes surrounding last week’s confidence motion in Mr O’Dea with Mr Sargent’s swift and “dignified” resignation as junior agriculture minister when it emerged he had tried to influence a Garda inquiry.
“You made a serious error of judgement in attempting to defend the indefensible in the case of former minister O’Dea because you forced your government, your own members in the backbenches, and the Green Party to come in here and publicly defend the former minister,” Mr Kenny told the Taoiseach.
Mr Cowen responded strongly to the attacks, insisting the opposition’s behaviour in the past week had not been acceptable. He also accused Labour and Fine Gael of being on the wrong side of the economic arguments and not putting the interests of the country ahead of party advantage.
Mr Cowen rounded on the Fine Gael leader over claims a Government source leaked the Garda letter that forced Mr Sargent’s resignation.
“The contrast I saw... was the dignity of Deputy Sargent’s statement against what was subsequently suggested outside this House by yours and others, by suggesting that there was something involved by this party in relation to these matters.
“That’s the contrast I saw and it was a pretty pathetic and ham-fisted attempt. This Government is demonstrating its preparedness to take the decisions necessary. Far from being tired, let me assure you, we are ready to fulfil our mandate for the remainder of this term.”
Mr Cowen also admitted he had discussed the possibility of Deirdre de Burca joining Máire Geoghegan-Quinn when she took up the EU Commissioner role, but Ms Geoghegan-Quinn rejected it.
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