A LABOUR bid to table a motion of no confidence in the Government sparked a bitter rift with their possible post-election partners Fine Gael.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition Government was clearly divided, politically dysfunctional and incapable of leading the country to economic recovery.
But Fine Gael dismissed the move as "ill-advised and badly timed" which would only served to unite a divided Fianna Fail.
It also created a spat with Fianna Fail, as Government Chief Whip John Curran made it clear he would break with convention and not surrender Dail time to debate the motion next week, but push it into Labour's own parliamentary slot in the week after next.
A Fine Gael party spokesman said that at a time when Fianna Fail was in turmoil over the leadership issue, "they have been offered a chance to unite" by the Labour motion.
The motion could actually prolong the life of the Government, given that the Green Party had said it would continue to support the Government until the passing of the Finance Bill, he said.
Fine Gael would not make a decision on the best course of action until the political situation clarified itself, Fine Gael said.
Mr Curran said the time would not be made available for the motion next week.
The Labour Party would have to use its own Private Members' time the following week if it wanted to pursue the issue.
Mr Gilmore, who did not speak to Mr Kenny prior to his announcement, defended the decision to table a motion of no confidence in the Government, rather than in Mr Cowen personally, saying the issue "is not about individuals at all".
Mr Gilmore said he told the Government before Christmas that he would put down a no confidence motion in January if there was no clear timetable for the passing of the Finance Bill, which gives legal effect to the Budget.