Election date set after day of political drama

Thursday 20 January 2011 22.11
Dáil - President accepts resignations of ministers
Dáil - President accepts resignations of ministers

On an extraordinary day of political drama the Taoiseach has told the Dail that the General Election will take place on Friday 11 March.

Mr Cowen had attempted to appoint six new Ministers to replace those resigning from Cabinet.

However he was forced to back down and reassign the vacant portfolios to current ministers after the Green Party told him they would not be prepared to support the move.

Following Government portfolios reassigned:
* Department of Health & Children: Mary Coughlan
* Department of Transport: Pat Carey
* Department of Justice & Law Reform: Brendan Smith
* Department of Trade, Enterprise & Innovation: Mary Hanafin
* Department of Defence: Eamon Ó Cuív

Follow on Twitter: @RTENews | @RTE_Elections

Timeline: As it happened

2205 David McCullagh: The day has ended with an outcome nobody could have predicted - almost half the Cabinet gone, not to be replaced; an election set for the 11th of March; and new questions over Brian Cowen's leadership of Fianna Fáil.

2158 Roisin Shorthall tells Prime Time that today saw a political stroke designed to prolong the Government's time in power.

2156 'When we left the meeting (yesterday) we did not think the resignations were going ahead,' says Eamon Ryan.

Mr Ryan says he was not expecting Batt O'Keeffe's resignation and that he told the Taoiseach that it was 'not a clever way to go' to appoint new ministers.

21.55 'We didn't ask John Gormley who his ministers were going to be,' insists Mary Coughlan

2150 Mary Coughlan tells Prime Time that in the past Brian Cowen had supported personnel changes in the Green Party.

1925 David Davin-Power: Well today's events really leave GUBU in the ha'penny place. It is clear that after just 36 hours the issue of Brian Cowen's leadership is back on the agenda.

1917 Brian Dowling: Mr Cowen is deeply, deeply angered about what he sees is a betrayal by the Green Party.

As of tonight there are 57 sitting Fianna Fáil TDs that are going to contest the election. I would not be surprised if that number dropped after what we have seen.

1900 Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin told RTÉ's Six One that he welcomes the date for the General Election, but it could and should have been earlier.

'It's a pity the Green Party hadn't shown backbone by standing up to Fianna Fail before now.'

1850 'I did not indicate to anybody that I was going to have a reshuffle until after that vote.' - Brian Cowen

1846 Asked again about the attempt to replace the resigning ministers, Mr Cowen responds: 'What we need are people who will be accountable for the decisions which will be made between now and election day'

1843 Taoiseach: 'You can't make decisions on the basis of public perception'

1841 'On the basis that they weren't contesting the election, the ministers felt they should be replaced' - Brian Cowen.

1838 'It's not a political stunt' Brian Cowen insists when asked about the reassigning of ministerial portfolios.

1835 Michael Noonan: 'It will be difficult for Mary Coughlan to be Tanaiste, Minister for Education and Minister for Health all at the same time.'

1834 'It was an extraordinary day at Leinster House' Michael Noonan tells Six One.

'Mr Cowen is like the manager of a team who took off half the team but then realised he had no subs on the bench and now needs to play with half a team'.

1828 'What we have at the moment is a dysfunctional government' - Eamon Gilmore

1822 Eamon Gilmore says his party's motion of no confidence will remain on the agenda and the situation will be reviewed.

1812 John Gormley tells Bryan Dobson 'the significance of the Finance Bill should not be underestimated'.

1807 The leadership of Fianna Fáil is surely back on the agenda after today's events.

1804 David Davin-Power: It's hard to imagine a more disastrous day for any head of government. Allowing four ministers to resign and humiliated by the Greens when he tries to replace them - Brian Cowen then conceded the date of the General Election.

1801 Six One News live now

1742 A third of the cabinet has now resigned since Micheal Martin left his post as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

1737 Bryan Dobson (@bryansixone): John Gormley, Eamonn Gilmore & Michael Noonan to be on Six One News. Request in for the Taoiseach.

1718 An extraordinary day in Irish politics has seen both Fine Fael and Labour again accuse Brian Cowen of mishandling recent events and lacking authority.

1714 David McCullagh: After a day spent in conclave discussing the crisis, the Greens have this evening given a very different account of yesterday's meeting and what was - or wasn't - agreed.

The coalition partners are still locked together until the Finance Bill is passed, but relations between them - and within Fianna Fáil - will never be the same again.

1710 Asked if the Greens considered pulling out of Government today-, John Gormley said all options were considered by the party.

Mr Gormley said the party had always tried to be polite with its partners in Government - but the meetings with Mr Cowen this afternoon were tense.

He said that Ministers are talking to one another and the Green Party is 'a beacon of stability and calmness'.

1704 Mr Gormley said that he met former Minister for Health Mary Harney last night and she did not mention she was to resign.

He said his wife told him that Ms Harney had resigned.

1700 John Gormley said that after he appeared on RTÉ's Six One News yesterday he received a telephone call from Dermot Ahern who took exception to comments he made that he was in ill health and could not fulfil his duties.

He said that there was no contact overnight about rumours that changes in Cabinet were about to take place.

Commenting on a Fianna Fáil statement that the Green's had been made fully aware of the changes that were proposed, John Gormley said the party assumed there would be further contact with their coalition partners before decisions were made.

1656 Brian Dowling: Gormley was kept in the dark completely by his coalition partners. The Greens were the afterthoughts in all of this.

1655 Gormley says Greens 'could not have been clearer' about their opposition to Fianna Fáil Ministerial appointments.

1652 Speaking about the changes within Cabinet, John Gormley said he was informed last Sunday by Brian Cowen that he intended to stay on as Fianna Fáil leader and wanted to appoint people to various cabinet positions.

1650 'We had no idea that these resignations were going to take place,' says Gormley

1645 At the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Green Party leader John Gormley says he welcomes the announcement of the date for the election.

'Since the return to Leinster House our focus has been on passing the Finance Bill and we remain committed to this.'

1614 Green Party to hold news conference at 16.45 to give its reaction to today's developments.

News conference will be carried live here

1545 Minister of State Conor Lenihan has said the Taoiseach Brian Cowen should resign.

Mr Lenihan said events over the last 24 hours have raised an issue about his leadership once again and he said quick action was needed by senior members of the party.

He said he was angry and embarrassed for supporters of Fianna Fáil who were 'looking on in horror at what was happening.'

1540 David Davin-Power: Still stunned by what has happened! Greens started meeting at 3pm.

1504 Ó Caoláin says the electorate will ensure that 'this Government pays the price for neglect, and abdication of responsibility.'

1502 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin says Sinn Féin would have preferred an 11 February date for the election.

1458 Sinn Féin News Conference live now

1455 Tony Killeen: 'I do believe that ministers serving in the Govt have a stake in the next parliament.'

1448 'We have 50 days to bring about a change this country', says Eamon Gilmore.

'The Labour Party alone can provide a change in Irish politics.'

Mr Gilmore said this is an opportunity for the country 'to focus on ridding ourselves of cronyism and insider Government.'

1446 Labour News Conference live now

1432 Today's events 'would not have happened even in the days of great dictatorship,' claims Enda Kenny.

He said that Fianna Fail had treated the Green Party with contempt and said the Brian Cowen had committed 'a cowardly act' by not being present in the Dáil this morning.

1427 'It's not a perfect day by any means,' Minister Pat Carey acknowledges on RTÉ News.

He denied this morning's events were a political stunt, though he conceded it may have appeared that way.

1413 Fine Gael Senator Frances Fitzgerald says it has been demeaning to see the Taoiseach do what he was trying to do today.

1409 David McCullagh: The Taoiseach now finds himself with egg on his face. He has been forced to set an election date earlier than he had wished for or hoped.

Whatever way you cut it - This is a disaster for Mr Cowen.

1357 The Taoiseach is defending his actions in reassigning portfolios.

Brian Cowen said the Finance Bill will be brought before the House next week and will make its way through the legislative stages over the following weeks.

He also rejected Labour's notion that he was engaging in a stunt regarding the ministerial resignation and said the truth was far from it.

He said on the 11 March he will go to the country with a strong front bench line up and said the election was about the future of the country.

1355 Sinn Féin's Caoimhghin O Caolain said there's no question that Brian Cowen had intended promote others to the Cabinet.

He said the Greens absence from the Dail spoke volumes.

'Brian Cowen is a lame duck Taoiseach in charge of lame duck government.'

1347 'What we must now concentrate on is moving this country on' - Eamon Gilmore

He says the Taoiseach's 'stroke' has backfired.

1342 The FG leader said he welcomed the announcement of the election day and said he was looking forward to the campaign.

Enda Kenny said this morning's confusion about the ministerial resignation showed disrespect to the House and noted the Greens were not in the chamber for the announcement.

1330 The Taoiseach says wants the General Election to take place on 11 March

'It is my intention in due course to seek a dissolution of Dail Eireann with a view to a general election taking place on Friday, March 11.'

1339 Ministerial portfolios reassigned as follows: Mary Coughlan: Health, Pat Carey: Transport, Brendan Smith: Justice, Mary Hanafin: Enterprise and Eamon O'Cuiv: Defence

1337 David Davin-Power: No Green TDs are in the Dail chamber.


1332
Brian Cowen has begun speaking in the Dail. He is paying tribute to the departing ministers.

The president has accepted all resignations

1332 Former Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea is calling for an election to be called.

The Limerick TD said that there was 'an air of instability' in the country and that changes in Cabinet at this point would be 'unwise'.

1329 TDs are starting to filter in to Leinster House

1323 Enda Kenny described this morning's events as a 'complete calamity' and that this is last days of a desperate government.

1319 Minister Mary Hanafin told the Taoiseach this morning that the retiring ministers should stay in their portfolios until the election in the interests of the country.

She had decided earlier this week not to resign herself as she felt that stability was needed in the final months of the government.

1312 The resignations of Batt O'Keeffe, Noel Dempsey, Mary Harney, Dermot Ahern and Tony Killeen have been accepted, Chief Whip John Curran tells Sean O'Rourke on News At One.

The posts will be reassigned within the remaining Cabinet.

1310 Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny says Green Party leader John Gormley needs to insist on getting a date for the general election.

He said the resigntions over the past 24 hours appear to have been orchestrated and have been planned for some time.

1308 David McCullagh: It appears the Greens are hanging tough - saying they will not accept a reshuffle.

The expectation is Mr Cowen may 'kick the matter to touch' and say the ministerial vacancies have been assigned to existing members of Cabinet.

We should know more in half an hour.

1253 The Taoiseach is expected to address the Dáil at 1.30pm, to reveal how he plans to deal with a rash of resignations from the Cabinet.

1251 Mr Gilmore says it is critically important the country gets a new Government and gets people back to work.

He said there is a huge decline in confidence in our economy and our democracy.

He said the country needs clarity and to move on.

1247 Eamon Gilmore wants the Dáil to be dissolved today, saying the chaos is just too much. He says this Government is finished.

1242 Contact Joe Duffy on Liveline – Call 1850-715815, text 51551 during the programme or email joe@rte.ie

1240 Listen to an extended News at One. Live now

1236 Tom Kitt says he is annoyed at the news of the resignations and a possible reshuffle.

He described the situation as 'shambolic'.

1225 Eamon Gilmore has postponed a planned visit to Limerick today due to the unprecedented events in the Dáil

1215 There has been widespread criticism in the Seanad of the expected Cabinet reshuffle.

Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald said it was 'surreal and farcical' to be talking about normal business while the 'Cabinet was disintegrating'.

Independent Senator Joe O'Toole described the situation as 'incredulous' and said it created further instability while Shane

1153 Mattie McGrath has accused resigning Cabinet members of 'cowardice'.

He said the decision of several ministers to stand down demonstrated a clear lack of willingness to defend their policies and actions in Government.

The TD, who is now outside the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, said the Taoiseach should call an Election immediately.

1152 Brian Dowling: The public watching this must be bewildered at this stage.

1150 Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin South South West Charlie O'Connor has said he believes vacant Cabinet positions should be filled by the Taoiseach as soon as possible.

Mr. O Connor said Government Departments need people in charge but he said he would not become involved in speculation about who could fill the vacancies.

However he believes anyone asked to fill a ministry is obliged to serve their country.

He described events in the Dáil today as unprecedented.

1148 David McCullagh: Is this the first time TDs have turned off their phones in case they get a call from the Taoiseach offering them a job?

1143 Just before the Dail was suspended, the Tánaiste told the House that the Ministers who intend to resign will continue to discharge their duties until the President has accepted their resignations.

1142 As yet there has been no statement for the Greens.

1139 The Dáil has been adjourned again - this time until 1.30pm

Amid increasingly heated exchanges in the Dail, the Fine Gael leader has again criticised the Taoiseach for not being in the Dail to discuss the resignations.

Mr Kenny is challenging the Greens to stand up to their coalition partners

1141 Brian Dowling: You could not rule out the Govt's collapse if the Taoiseach seeks to appoint new ministers and the Greens don't support it.

The Greens now hold the survival of this Government in their hands.

1135 'Will the new Minister for Foreign Affairs come to the Dáil this afternoon?' asks Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Brian Cowen) is scheduled to answer questions this afternoon.

1132 'Do have a Government that is functioning?' asks Eamon Gilmore.

'Is there a Government?'

1128 As the Dáil resumed, Enda Kenny said that in the last 10 minutes he had sent the Taoiseach a letter telling him it 'would be appropriate' for him to come to the House 'to inform the Irish public what is happening in this country.'

1127 Green Party TD Paul Gogarty has said his Parliamentary Party is continuing to meet and is expected to issue a statement this morning.

Mr Gogarty said he was precluded from making any further comment.

1119 Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr O'Flynn said new nominations to Cabinet would fly in the face of public opinion.

1118 Fianna Fáil TD Noel O Flynn said he would advise the Taoiseach to come into the Dail, dissolve the Dáil and call a General Election.

Mr O'Flynn, who represents Cork North Central, accused his party leader Brian Cowen of 'mismanagement' and also said new Cabinet appointments would fly in the face of public opinion.

1110 David McCullagh: Any Ministers or Ministers of State appointed to fill vacancies will not be entitled to pensions if they serve for less than two years.

However, they will be entitled to some increase in severance pay.

In the case of someone who was already an office holder - for instance a Minister of State who is promoted to full Cabinet rank - their severance pay would be based on an average of their pay over two years.

1109 The Dáil has been suspended until 11.23am

1107 Labour's Brendan Howlin asks whether the powers of the Minister for Justice have been formally transferred? He says this is usual procedure even if the Minister for Justice leaves the country

1102 Brian Cowen arrived at Government Buildings a short time ago. No sign of him in the Dáil chamber.

1102 The Ceann Comhairle says the House cannot be suspended unless there is 'gross disorder' in the house

1101 Kenny asks for the Dáil to be suspended for an hour for the Taoiseach. Gilmore says he agrees with this request.

11.00 The Labour leader demands to know what arrangements have been made for the transfer of responsibilities of the ministers who have now resigned.

1057 'Has this been a contrived outrageous plot?' Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asks deputies as he comments on the resignation of four ministers last night.

O Caolain asked if that Brian Cowen had promised Cabinet positions to TDs during his weekend discussions about his leadership.

1054 'Can't you wait a few hours...?' is the swan song of this Govt says Gilmore.

1050 Mr Gilmore asks the Tánaiste who is in charge of the departments of Justice, Defence, Transport & Health?

1049 Mary Coughlan claims the situation reminds her of the refusal to hold a by-election in Donegal South West in 1986.

1047 Eamon Gilmore says there is an orchestrated resignation of ministers going on - and 'a cynical, grubby political excercise' taking place.

'I'm sorry if I am keeping you from your coffee and bickies' Gimore tells the Government. The comment prompts smiles from the Tánaiste.

1043 'What is happening here this morning is disrespectful to the people of this country,' says Labour's Eamon Gilmore.

1042 Mary Coughlan dismisses the criticism and tells Enda Kenny that she always takes the order of business on a Thursday

1041 Kenny tells the Dáil it is time that the Green Party stopped tweeting and stood up to the mark.

1038 'Where is Taoiseach Brian Cowen this morning?' Enda Kenny asks the Dáil.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan is taking the order of business in the Dáil, as is usual procedure on Thursdays.

'Where is Brian Cowen now? He should be in this chamber,' Mr Kenny asks - amid roars from the the Opposition benches.

'Do you people not understand that the anger on the streets is unprecedented?'