Fianna Fail forced into February election
Greens commit political suicide
Sinn Fein prepare to spend big
FG/Lab want Feb 18 date, but FF are holding out for Feb 25
LAME duck Taoiseach Brian Cowen will be forced to announce a February election.
The most likely dates now are February 18 and 25.
Cowen and his bedraggled party were hoping to cling to the latter date, but the Opposition were today hopeful they can pull off a February 18 poll.
All the parties were enviously eyeing up the Sinn Fein war chest – said to be the wealthiest on the island – while Fianna Fail is practically broke and in no condition to fight a campaign, unlike FG and Labour.
As election day looms Sinn Fein are expected to kick off one of the most extravagent campaigns in history.
The republican group are now the most lavishly funded in the state, compared to Fianna Fail who are flat broke.
An immediate election will be sparked unless Fianna Fail cede to a February 25 vote.
A 10-day deadline is to be set for the passing of the 220-page Finance Bill after the Greens switched to the Opposition benches.
Labour and Fine Gael both indicated today that they were willing to negotiate with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan about the date.
However, Mr Lenihan warned that Ireland would be turned into “a paradise for tax avoidance” if the Finance Bill is not pushed through the Dail first.
Today he denied that Fianna Fail was stalling and went as far as to accuse the Opposition of looking for a “walk-over General Election”.
“The most important international statement this country can make is that the political system can actually deliver the goods in terms of the Finance Bill,” he said.
But Labour's Joan Burton warned the Government that it “does not demand a majority to dictate the order of business”. She said the Dail could sit all night if necessary.
Ahead of meeting with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan she said that the election must take place in February.
“It is absolutely possible to do February 25 without any difficulty. Otherwise we will proceed with our no confidence vote,” she said.
Fine Gael's Simon Coveney agreed with that date saying it “made a lot of sense”.
“I think everybody is just disgusted and ashamed of what's happening in Government,” he said.
“Fianna Fail no longer controls politics in Ireland. The choice is this: either there is a compromise that is realistic or the Opposition take the view that they cannot work with Fianna Fail and trigger an election.”
The Green Party has still given no commitment on whether it would support Fianna Fail if a no confidence motion is tabled.
But today, Deputy Paul Gogarty said: “Fine Gael and Labour should take a leap of faith and say that's fair enough, we're going to get the Bill passed shortly and not play games with motions.”
He said that all parties should “sit down and have a serious and honest discussion about what's involved in truncating the Finance Bill”.
Despite being part of the contest to succeed Brian Cowen as Fianna Fail leader, Mr Lenihan said that the Finance Bill “will take my first priority”.
He said he would listen to Labour and Fine Gael during what are expected to be intense negotiations this evening.
“It's clear the normal time schedule for the Finance Bill runs to the end of March. We need a tight timetable, I accept that,” he said.
However, Mr Lenihan warned that if the Finance Bill wasn't passed it would leave Ireland as a heaven for tax avoidance.
He said that as many as 10 provisions in the Bill deal with tax avoidance and “no responsible parliament” would delay them.
Deputy Gogarty also said: “Even if it were rapidly done it may not be done by Friday. All I would ask of the other Opposition parties is that if they are actually serious they will have open discussion with the Finance Minister.”
But Simon Coveney reiterated: “We will not facilitate the Fianna Fail party in buying itself time to allow a new leader settle in for an election.”
He added: “Anybody who reads international media would see this morning that Ireland is the subject of ridicule across the world.
“People are laughing at us outside of Ireland. We need to bring an end to this but we need to do it in a responsibly way.”
The Financial Times reported today that our coalition has “become the first Eurozone government to fall as a result of Europe's debt crisis”.
“This is unsurprising. Yet, the justifiable anger of Irish voters at being saddled with the debts of their reckless bankers cannot itself explain the extraordinary implosion of Fianna Fail, the party that has long dominated Irish politics,” it said.
Speaking about the Fianna Fail leadership contest today, Mr Lenihan said: “History will pass verdict on Brian Cowen and I believe history will be kinder to him than current comment.”
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