THE Green Party has claimed the head of Willie O’Dea, who bowed to the inevitable and resigned as Defence Minister after a day of unrelenting pressure caused by his smearing of a political rival.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced Mr O’Dea’s departure in a short statement issued just before 9pm, confirming that the minister had tendered his resignation and that the President had accepted it.
It raises the possibility of a minor reshuffle that could potentially see other sitting ministers come under pressure to retain their positions.
Mr O’Dea said he was resigning because he had come to “the regrettable conclusion that my continuing in office will only serve to distract from the important and vital work of Government”.
But there was no hiding the true cause of his resignation – pressure applied by the Greens, who belatedly realised their own credibility would be severely damaged if they continued to support him.
On Wednesday, the junior coalition partners had supported a Dáil motion of confidence in Mr O’Dea after Fianna Fáil had brought it forward at short notice.
This led to the belief that the minister would survive the allegations of perjury he was facing after admitting to swearing a false affidavit in the High Court last year.
But later that night, Green chairman and senator Dan Boyle bluntly declared he had no confidence in Mr O’Dea and called on the minister to resign. Mr Boyle’s comments sparked a full-blown crisis for the Greens yesterday.
Mr O’Dea did not help matters by giving a lunchtime interview to RTÉ Radio in which he portrayed himself as a victim in the affair.
“I’m a victim here as well. I’ve been accused of something I didn’t do which is perjury, so from that point of view I am the victim.”
Shortly afterwards, the Taoiseach insisted Mr O’Dea still had his support, but by then many Fianna Fáil backbenchers believed the writing was on the wall.
Green TDs and senators held a meeting at Leinster House, following which Mr Gormley met with the Taoiseach.
While Mr Gormley insisted he was “not in the business of issuing threats or ultimatums”, he made clear to Mr Cowen the Greens’ belief that Mr O’Dea’s position was untenable. Other pressure had also been brought to bear, with the Dáil suspended briefly amid heated scenes after Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny accused the Government of “harbouring a perjurer”.
Separately, Green Party member Gary Fitzgerald made a formal complaint to gardaí alleging the minister had committed perjury.
The controversy revolved around statements made by Mr O’Dea in a newspaper interview in which he alleged a Sinn Féin local election candidate, Maurice Quinlivan, part-owned an apartment that had been used as a brothel. Mr O’Dea subsequently denied making the comments in a sworn affidavit. But a recording of the interview later proved he had made them, and he apologised and paid “substantial” damages to Mr Quinlivan in December.
Mr O’Dea has always insisted the denial was simply an honest mistake based on a flawed recollection of the interview.
But Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny last night said Mr O’Dea’s resignation was an “inevitable consequence of his swearing of a false affidavit”.
“This debacle raises fundamental questions about the Taoiseach’s willingness to enforce proper standards of behaviour in his Government,” Mr Kenny added.
The Taoiseach has taken on the duties of the defence portfolio for the time being.
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