What a difference a day makes. On Tuesday evening, Brian Cowen celebrated after defeating a motion of no confidence in his leadership tabled by foreign minister and party colleague Micheál Martin. “The party is united behind Brian Cowen as leader,” declared Fianna Fail chief whip John Curran.
But barely 24 hours later, the Irish premier’s political prospects lay in tatters. Despite saving his job, the dearth of confidence in Cowen among his own party was soon laid bare by a raft of ministerial resignations. By yesterday morning, the premature departure of front-bench heavyweights such as Noel Dempsey, Mary Harney and Tom Killeen left Cowen with just nine serving ministers.
When Fianna Fail’s coalition partner, the Greens, refused to support his nomination of replacement ministers, the Taoiseach was forced into yet another embarrassing volte-face: instead of new ministers, he bowed to the Greens’ wishes and called a general election.
Any hopes Cowen had that replacing retiring ministers with new faces from the back-benches might refresh his moribund party have been dashed. Instead, his government will face the electorate with many of the same cadre that presided over Ireland’s economic crisis in prominent positions.
With unemployment at a vertiginous 13 per cent, inflation on a two-year high and an estimated 1,000 people leaving every day, Ireland is still a long way from recovery. Both Fianna Fail and the Greens face almost-certain electoral annihilation. Yet neither Fine Gael nor Labour have fully convinced the Irish public they have a credible new vision for the country.
Originally appeared in the Scotsman 21/01/2011