The Irish government is now a single-party government. On Sunday, the Greens withdrew from the coalition, leaving only Fianna Fáil ministers remaining.
Generally, it has been a very turbulent week in Irish politics. The Fianna Fáil (FF) party and particularly the Taoiseach (prime minister), Brian Cowen, are very unpopular, taking the blame for Ireland’s financial crisis and the subsequent austerity measures. To try to shore up support in his Fianna Fáil party with an election looming, Cowen announced a vote of confidence in his leadership. (The FF parliamentary party selects and deselects its leader). On Tuesday he won that vote, but then he made a tactical error. Immediately following the vote, four ministers resigned. One had stood against Cowen in the confidence vote. The other three supported the Taoiseach, but they resigned to let him appoint a new set of people to cabinet. The problem is that ministerial nominations have to be approved by the parliament (the Dáil). The Greens were unhappy, having not been warned of the resignations. They said they would not approve any new nominations. The government, even with the Greens, did not have a parliamentary majority. So, Cowen looked very weak. An important part of the context is that the Irish government has a maximum of 15 ministers. With four ministers gone and no new appointments able to be made, Cowen had to reassign the missing ministers’ duties to those that remained. One minister ended up with responsibility for Tourism, Culture, Sport, Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
Anyway, following the ministerial fiasco and under fresh pressure from FF, on Saturday Cowen announced that he was resigning as the leader of the party, although he would stay on as Taoiseach. He also announced that the election would take place on 11 March. The Greens were still unhappy and on Sunday they withdrew their two ministers from the government. This leaves just seven ministers remaining! This is the constitutional minimum.
On Monday an agreement was implicitly reached between all of the parliamentary parties such that the Dáil will be dissolved at the weekend or early next week and that the election will probably be held on 25 February. If the Taoiseach does not dissolve the Dáil, then the government will face a vote of no-confidence that it will inevitably lose.
Taoiseach Cowen was under great political pressure. However, it must be very rare for a leader to win a vote of confidence from his party early in the week and then to resign because of party pressure later that week. However, the change in circumstances was his own fault. He tried to outmanoeuvre the Greens with the ministerial resignations and they called his bluff. There is speculation that Cowen will not stand for re-election. His popularity rating stands at 8% and FF are polling about 14%.