A BITTER Dáil power battle saw Tánaiste Mary Coughlan being allowed to lead an education push in America only after Labour blocked Fine Gael’s bid to ground her.
A day of extraordinary political skirmishing ended with the two likely coalition partners after the next election at logger-heads, as Labour played the patriotic card while an outmanoeuvred Fine Gael was left accusing it of allowing the Tánaiste to “run away” from Dáil questioning on the FÁS training fiasco.
The main opposition parties fought for the mantle of leading the alternative government after Labour’s Ruairí Quinn offered a Dáil pairing arrangement to the Education Minister – should a vote be held in her absence – following Enda Kenny’s refusal to do so.
The Tánaiste initially cancelled her Enterprise Ireland visit to a gathering of US career guidance counsellors due to tightening Government numbers in the Dáil, which returns after an 81-day break tomorrow.
FG education spokesman Fergus O’Dowd said the Tánaiste was “dodging” FÁS questions in the Dáil and could have set off on Thursday and still attended the key part of the tour.
He then turned his fire on Labour: “I’m very surprised that Labour have manoeuvred, or been manoeuvred, into a position of letting Fianna Fáil off the hook in the Dáil. It is clear to me now that the only party guaranteed not to do a deal with Fianna Fáil is Fine Gael.”
FG promised to “turn the screw” on Ministers by refusing pairing except for North/South and EU meetings, however the party said it would “probably” allow Government attendance at the Europe/Asia ASEM Brussels summit next week.
Mr Quinn defended his intervention saying that though he wanted rid of this “desperate” Government an exception needed to be made. “As a former Minister for Enterprise, I have led missions such as this and I know the potential they can have to deliver jobs. There will be other ways of taking out this Government but not at the expense of the prospect for jobs in the education sector.”
The Tánaiste said Fine Gael had “embarrassed” the country, while Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe branded the move “unpatriotic”.
The scramble for political positioning pointed to a tense Dáil session in which Brian Cowen’s majority rests on a knife-edge after angry supporters said they would withdraw support over health cuts, and Greens insisted FF TDs could not “cherry pick” the coalition agenda.
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