Majority of Dáil wants election before the budget

THE majority of the Dáil believes Taoiseach Brian Cowen should call a general election before the December budget.

A number of his Fianna Fáil colleagues and two key independents said the Government would better serve the people by letting them vote now.

This means Mr Cowen hopes to pass the most critical budget in the country’s history against the best wishes of most TDs.

Today a group of Fianna Fáil backbenchers has said it will stand up to Mr Cowen at its parliamentary party meeting and demand he calls an election and steps aside as leader of the party.

The reaction of many backbenchers to yesterday’s Green Party uprising was that the Government had run out of road.

Throughout the day both Government factions, backbenchers and independents, added their names to the list of dissenters.

Cork north central’s Noel O’Flynn was the first to demand his resignation. He followed up his earlier letter to the Taoiseach, on the issue of pensions cuts, with another which upped the ante considerably.

This one demanded Mr Cowen resign immediately.

“It is my belief that you have lost all credibility with the citizens of this state and now the only honourable course of action is to resign as Taoiseach and leader of the Fianna Fáil Party,” his letter said.

Chris Andrews supported Mr O’Flynn. He said the Taoiseach should call time as leader of Fianna Fáil and the Government. Their comments picked up on a dissatisfaction which was building throughout the early afternoon.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward said he had always supported Mr Cowen but that was no longer the case. Last week’s communications were a disaster, he said, and something had to give.

“The game is up,” he said.

His constituency colleague, John McGuinness, said the budgetary plans of all parties should be put to the electorate and this was best done by an immediate election.

On RTÉ Sean Power TD said he wanted the Taoiseach to make a statement and announce his intention to resign.

And in Limerick former minister Willie O’Dea said the Taoiseach now had to consider if it was wise to attempt to bring in a budget which was unlikely to pass.

He said sometimes in politics you had to choose between “the disastrous and the unpalatable”.

Waterford’s Brendan Kenneally said the Green Party’s withdrawal was a “huge surprise” but it meant the passing of a budget by the Government was now unlikely to happen and an election should happen first.

“What is the point in trying to put through something that you don’t have a prospect of getting through,” he said.

But he said changing party leader at this time would cause more damage and the election should be fought with Mr Cowen at the helm.

Cork East TD Ned O’Keeffe agreed. He said the Taoiseach should argue his case before the Irish people and not allow the Government to be “betrayed by the Green Party, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae”.

He blamed Finance Minister Brian Lenihan for the handling of the crisis.

The Fianna Fáil backbenchers were first outflanked in their protests by the Green Party and later by the two independents.

Jackie Healy Rae said he would not support any budget which cut pensions or added to education fees.

And, after initially calling for Fine Gael and the Labour Party to show their colours, Michael Lowry decided it would be better if an election was called to bring clarity.

This meant by the afternoon, with a by-election already under way, the Government was aware that if everybody voted according to their public declarations the budget would fall.

There were also calls for calm.

Michael McGrath TD said his colleagues had to support a budget in the “national interest”. He said he did not believe Fine Gael and the Labour Party could win an election, negotiate a programme for government and pass a budget before Christmas. And this would not be quick enough to satisfy the international agencies, he said.

Kildare TD Sean Ó Fearghail said Mr Cowen’s leadership was something the Taoiseach would have to address at the parliamentary party. But he said it was essential the budget was passed.

In his neighbouring constituency junior minister Áine Brady said there had to be some type of certainty for the country’s finances but she did not know if an election would achieve this.

A handful of Fianna Fáil TDs were in the Isle of Man at a inter-parliamentary conference when the news broke.

However, suspicions in this group had already been raised on Sunday when Green Party Senator Dan Boyle did not show up at the airport to join them as planned and cancelled his participation.

Among those who travelled was Meath’s Johnny Brady who accused his colleagues of “greed” for demanding a general election.

“I don’t care what they do, we have to get this budget through. These people are more concerned about their seats then the country,” he said.

Similarly, Michael Fitzpatrick expressed strong support for Mr Cowen and said he should lead Fianna Fáil into the general election.

Dublin north’s Darragh O’Brien criticised the Greens for pulling the plug and said he did not believe with two cabinet ministers that they could have been left in the dark. However, he said even if there was hostility among the coalition colleagues, a budget still had to be passed.

His constituency colleague Michael Kennedy said it would not be in the national interest to stall the negotiations with the IMF and the ECB in order to go to the people.

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