The Corner

Free Fall?

The political fall-out from Ireland’s financial meltdown continues. At the end of last week prime minister Brian Cowen stood down as party leader of Fianna Fail ahead of the general election already called for March 11th. Now the other half of his governing coalition — the Green party — has quit.

 The Daily Telegraph takes up the story here:

The loss of two Green Party cabinet ministers means Mr Cowen now only has seven of 15, the minimum constitutionally allowed. The focus next week will fall on the finance bill and a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition for Tuesday. If Mr Cowen lost the motion he would be obliged to resign and call an election within four weeks.

 Mr Cowen yesterday bowed to pressure to quit as party leader after an epic week of political chaos, but the Taoiseach vowed to stay on as head of the coalition government until the March 11 general election. Mr Cowen, who has seen his personal ratings plummet during Ireland’s economic crisis, resigned as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party but said he would remain at the head of government until the March 11 general election.

 He made the shock announcement after a week of unprecedented political turmoil in Ireland. Six ministers resigned, Mr Cowen’s cabinet reshuffle collapsed and the Greens threatened to pull out of the Government, forcing him to call a general election. The government has been descending into crisis since Ireland’s crippled economy was forced to accept a bail-out by the European Union and International Monetary Fund last year…

Mr Cowan won a secret ballot on his leadership last Tuesday but has since faced renewed pressure. The Irish government recently unveiled the toughest budget in its history, including £5bn of cuts. Further tax rises and spending cuts were launched in a four-year National Recovery Plan.

 They are designed to sharply cut the country’s huge budget deficit, which is a requirement of the £72.3bn bail-out. Opposition parties demanded Mr Cowen set an earlier date for the general election. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny threatened to move a motion of no confidence in Mr Cowen as Taoiseach next Tuesday unless he goes to the President to seek a dissolution of parliament.  Labour leader Eamon Gilmore claimed the Irish people did not want the Government to remain in office another day.

 Ireland’s political crisis came to a head after new revelations emerged about the prime minister’s links to the disgraced chairman of the Anglo-Irish Bank, the banking institution that triggered Ireland’s financial crisis in 2009. Mr Cowen has denied discussing bank matters in 2008 with Sean FitzPatrick on the golf course shortly before he announced a multi-billion euro bank guarantee.

None of this is likely to inspire much confidence in Ireland’s banks (and thus the euro) next week…

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