Gilmore accuses Cowen of 'cynical stroke' as election date is set

Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, has accused the Taoiseach Brian Cowen of a cynical attempt to cling on to power through a major Cabinet reshuffle and appointment of new ministers.

Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, has accused the Taoiseach Brian Cowen of a cynical attempt to cling on to power through a major Cabinet reshuffle and appointment of new ministers.

Mr Cowen has announced Ireland will hold a general election on Friday March 11.

Amid chaos and controversy following the resignation of six Cabinet ministers, Mr Cowen made an apparent climbdown from a reshuffle, instead choosing to reassign portfolios.

In statement to the Dáil, the Taoiseach said the coalition Government would continue in power until the Finance Bill, giving effect to Budget 2011, and other important legislation is passed.

Mr Gilmore said: “The Taoiseach attempted a stroke and it backfired."

Mr Gilmore suggested the whistle had been blown on Mr Cowen’s plans by the junior coalition partners.

“As a result he has now ended up as a Taoiseach without authority,” he said.

No Green TD attended the Dáil chamber for the statement.

“No longer, it would appear, has he the authority as head of Government to do the most essential things that a head of Government does in a democracy – which is to appoint the members of his Government.”

Mr Cowen said: "I believe it is important in the weeks ahead that the Government gives legislative effect to the Budget through the enactment of the Finance Bill and other related Bills which benefit the people.

“There‘s nothing more important than doing precisely that.”

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny depicted the Taoiseach and Green Party leader John Gormley as Laurel and Hardy.

“It’s another fine mess we have gotten ourselves into,” Mr Kenny said.

“The position that no new minister has been appointed obviously is a case of desperation by the Government of being afraid of putting that to a vote in the house.

“And the fact the Greens are not represented in the chamber on this date speaks for itself.”

Mr Kenny said the Government was also unable to fill its own frontbench during the announcement despite more than 20 ministers and former ministers on the backbenches.

“It’s almost one for everyone in the audience,” he said.

The Labour leader said the Taoiseach’s failure to make an announcement earlier, after last night’s mass Cabinet exodus, sparked political chaos and sent out a signal internationally that the country was disintegrating.

Mr Gilmore said “hope and confidence” needed to be restored for Irish people who had come through “hell and fire” in recent years.

The Government was thrown into turmoil in the last 24 hours after five resignations - Mary Harney from health, Dermot Ahern from justice, Noel Dempsey from transport, Tony Killeen from defence, and Batt O'Keeffe from enterprise.

Their departures came on the back of the resignation of Micheal Martin from foreign affairs on Tuesday night after a failed leadership challenge.

Mr Cowen was widely believed to be plotting a reshuffle to fill the empty Cabinet seats after Mr Dempsey claimed the announcement of resignations was in the planning for weeks.

But in an apparent U-turn under pressure from junior coalition Government partners the Green Party, the portfolios were being reassigned.

Tánaiste (deputy PM) Mary Coughlan, already in charge of education, will take on health, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith takes on justice, Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv has been given the defence brief, and Pat Carey, Minister for Gaeltacht, Community and Rural Affairs, has control of transport.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin, who voted against Mr Cowen remaining leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party in this week’s leadership heave, has been asked to take the Enterprise portfolio.

Mr Cowen retains control of the foreign affairs brief.

He dismissed the opposition’s claims that he had attempted a stunt to fill the departmental positions with hand-picked general election candidates.

“I challenge the politically correct view that it was for the purpose of a stunt. Far from it,” the Taoiseach said.

“I give you my view because what this election is about is the future of the country. What this election is about is that we have the people of talent and ability to put that case.”

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