Irish Government in crisis amid calls for general election

The Irish Government was thrown into crisis today after the Greens, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, called for a general election.

John Gormley, leader and Environment Minister, said he wanted a date for the vote to be set some time in the second half of January.

The dramatic call comes less than 24 hours after Cabinet ministers agreed to ask the International Monetary Fund and Europe for a multibillion bail-out - a plea described as humiliation for the country.

Mr Gormley said: "The past week has been a traumatic one for the Irish electorate. People feel misled and betrayed.

"But we have now reached a point where the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months. So we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011."

The Greens said they made the decision on Saturday.

The party then sent its two Cabinet ministers into an emergency meeting yesterday to sign off the IMF/EU bail-out.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was told about the move this morning and Mr Gormley said he expressed disappointment at the decision.

Mr Gormley said he wanted the current coalition Government to achieve three things before going to the public.

* Produce a credible four-year plan to show they can make the Budgets balance by 2014, expected this Wednesday.

* Deliver a Budget for 2011, due on December 7.

* Secure IMF/EU funding respecting vital Irish interests and restoring stability to the euro, expected in several weeks.

Mr Gormley said the Greens wanted to spend the next two months working on these crucial issues to "safeguard the future prosperity and independence of the Irish people".

The announcement was made in Leinster House, Dublin after party representatives and officials met.

Brian Lenihan, Finance Minister, was reportedly unaware of the decision up until half an hour before it was made public.

Mr Gormley said, since entering government in 2007: "It has been difficult. We have taken tough decisions and put the national interest first.

"We cannot go back and reverse the property bubble and the reckless banking which we consistently opposed. Nor can we control the market turmoil which has afflicted the Euro area.

"We have taken extensive measures to recognise the losses and stabilise our banking system. However, it is now clear we need further measures to give market confidence about our banks and public finances."

The election call exposed a total breakdown in relations and communication between the Greens and Mr Cowen's much larger Fianna Fail party.

Mr Gormley disclosed that he felt the Government was not being completely open with the public and that he was effectively operating under orders.

"I believe that there was bad communication within the Government," Mr Gormley said.

"We were given an official line, both (Green cabinet colleague, Communications Minister) Eamon Ryan and myself, which was itself a mixed message."

The Government, and Mr Cowen in particular, has been repeatedly accused of speaking in riddles and refusing to openly discuss ministerial approaches to the IMF and EU.

The Green ministers were told to stay on message with the line "discussions were taking place but no negotiations" if asked about an IMF intervention, Mr Gormley said.

Officials in Brussels were leaking details of talks a week before Mr Cowen conceded that a bailout loan was a possibility.

"I regret very much that the country is in the hands of the IMF and I think I and my colleagues are deeply upset by what has happened but we believe that we had to stay in government at all times to act in the national interest," Mr Gormley said.

Flanked by eight members of the Greens' parliamentary party, Mr Gormley said communication within Government was a real problem.

He said it was a unanimous decision by the party to call for an election.

"The answers we got were somewhat Jesuitical, were not clear enough," the party leader said.

"As a consequence, I think, certain Government ministers went out then and there was an element of miscommunication."

Senator Dan Boyle, the party's finance spokesman, attempted to play down potential tensions between the Government parties.

"I think it would have been helpful if it was explained differently and in a more clear way," Senator Boyle said.

"But we don't believe there was any intention to mislead, I'd like to make that quite clear."

Later about 50 protesters, some from Sinn Fein, forced their way into a security hut at the front gates of Government Buildings.

Among the demonstrators was one of the party's TDs, Aengus O Snodaigh.

Mr O Snodaigh said demonstrators were demanding the IMF leave the country and that a general election be called immediately.

"We're putting across the message that there is a huge level of anger out there amongst the normal punter, and that they're demanding that the Government goes, so we got that message across, hopefully, today," he said.

The groups marched from the gates of Leinster House, the seat of parliament, to Government Buildings which houses the Taoiseach's office.

A number tried to hold a sit-down protest after being escorted out of the grounds.

[Source: The Independent, London, 22Nov10]

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