The election is called – or is it?

Posted by Eoin O’Malley, 22 November 2010

The decision of the Greens to call for the election to take place, confirms what most already expected, that an election will take place in early 2011. That Lowry and Healy-Rae are jumping also ensures the government is effectively over.  But when will the election actually take place? The Green statement is unclear.  It was being reported by RTÉ and the Irish Times might take place in late January, but they have since amended this. I assume the Greens mean that the date for the election will be fixed in January to take place at some as yet unspecified later date.

So the date of the election remains unclear. The Greens said the party wished to see the budget passed. This does not take place in December. Only immediate changes, such as excise duties are voted on in December 7 – to allow the price of a pint to go up at midnight that night. The Finance Bill which sets out the budget for 2011 is usually published in late January/ early February of the year (this year it was 4th February). It must go through the Oireachtas but has to be passed by early April. So if they want the budget passed, does that mean that they will set an election date after this? They will obviously need to have the Dáil sitting, so the election must take place after it is passed. I assume they could pass this very quickly, maybe two weeks – but there will be some demand to use the time allocated for debates for campaigning, and if it is as important as everyone says it is, who’d call for a guillotine? So that may be optimistic.

Once it is passed and signed by the President, the Taoiseach may choose to go straight to the president for dissolution, but he may wait for a defeat in a confidence motion. The campaign must be at least 17 days long (excluding Sundays and public holidays), which takes us to about St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a good chance Cowen will want a long campaign. So the election could be late March or early April. Unless of course the government is defeated on another issue by rebel Fianna Fáil TDs and independents, thus forcing his hand. But will Fine Gael allow the election happen without the Finance Bill being passed? The Greens wanted to inject some certainty, but they have added to the confusion.

UPDATE: The Taoiseach’s statement this evening shows he wants to get the budget and all the related legislation through before dissolving the Dáil – which even if this were expedited would take us to a March election date. However Cowen may not be able to for if he’s lost Lowry and Healy-Rae, and loses the by-election this week, when Gilmore puts down a motion of no-confidence early next week, he may find it difficult to get a majority for this. It would be virtually impossible for Healy-Rae or Lowry to support this, and some of Fianna Fáil’s own backbenchers might be tempted to vote against Cowen. Except that I’m not sure that the confidence motion can go down, because the last one was put down by Enda Kenny in mid-June, and there needs to be six months between motions of no-confidence in the Taoiseach/ government. The Ceann Comhairle can allow it happen but on the basis of past performance he’s unlikely to do anything to upset his party leader.

14 thoughts on “The election is called – or is it?

  1. But will Fine Gael allow the election happen without the Finance Bill being passed?

    Based on Kenny’s statement, yes:

    “What is needed now is an immediate General Election so that a new government, with a clear parliamentary majority, can prepare the four year economic plan, complete negotiations with the EU and IMF and frame a budget for 2011.”

  2. What the Greens want is impossible – listening to Eamon Ryan being interviewed on radio he didn’t seem to be aware that the Finance Bill is not produced for weeks after the budget and appeared to think that it coincides with the Social Welfare Bill that usually comes before the Dail before the Xmas recess. What FF backbenchers want is equally impossible. A ‘new’ leader would have a bit of trouble getting elected as Taoiseach as the Greens couldn’t possibly support whoever FF selected and besides, both Lowry and Healy-Rae certainly wouldn’t either.

    FG are in a tight spot alright. It’s pretty certain that Labour will vote against the Budget. If FG abstain, thus allowing the Budget to get passed, Labour will slaughter them on every doorstep in the country with ‘being no different to FF’ etc. Ditto for a similar strategy re the Finance Bill.

    The four year plan is being published on Wednesday. The ‘right thing’ would be for Cowen to publish it and simultaneously announce that the Budget is being brought forward by a week on which date both measures will be put before the Dail, and whether or not they are passed he will call the election immediately thereafter. This would make it easier for FG to support the Budget ‘in the national interest’ with the assurance that they could make changes to the package in the Finance Bill when they take office in the New Year. It would also mean that the campaign would have to be about the respective parties’ approach to the Plan and thus about issues rather than a meaningless personality contest. Labour could still do their worst, but FG are better prepared than Labour and have some real policy options to trounce them with in public debate. Problem is I’m not sure the current leader of FG has the wit or the capacity to seek a deal from Cowen on this basis, so the whole thing looks to set to turn into another fiasco. Who looks set to lose most in that event? Why the hapless citizens of Ireland, of course.

  3. The Green Party statement said:

    So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.

    Surely this can only mean they want an election to take place in the second half of January? Not that they want to fix the date in the second half of January and have the election in April!

    • I rather pointedly asked Dan Boyle on Facebook earlier today as I felt the language used was ambiguous and his reply introduced me to the notion that they wanted to wait until the finance bill was passed something I reminded him often takes us into late March or April. Dan appears of the view that with more sittings and a shorter break over the Christmas that it could be done. But that means expecting Oireachtas members to attend debates when they know everyone else running for election will be going door to door.

      I just don’t think they’ve thought this one through.

      Do we have the US Congressional notion of a continuing resolution or does the country grind to a half without a budget?

    • But surely they would have said to fix date for a general election *to take place* in the second half of January if that is what the party meant?

      Unless they don’t know the procedures for the budgetary process they could not have meant this.

      • This was on Ciaran Cuffe’s twitter:

        “Pretty busy day all round. We need political certainty, and should have that by end of January, if not before”

        I think that suggests they intended to announce a general election for late January.

        By passing the budget, I think it is clear enough that what people are talking about is the principles of the budget being assented to. It is also possible that the DoF would be able to produce a slimmed down Finance Bill to cover off the main tax changes in a shorter period of time than before.

  4. First the election then the budget. “They” are no longer in control and “they” have not been in control since Sept ’08.

    Are Labour and FG going to continue to play the NAMA game? Are insolvency guys and legal parasites in NAMA going to be given 800 Euro and hour while ordinary people on the minimum wages are going to be cut by 1 Euro per hour? Show us the blue print for the FG/Labour/IMF republic? Are the quango’s going to be slashed let’s go through them one by one all 1008 of them Niamh Hardiman will supply you with the data in this regard.

    Labour would love to come in the back door after the budget has been “passed’ but they will now have to break cover and come up with a very precise budget of their own and drop the fig leaf. Are Labour going to cut minimum wages? Social welfare? Pensions? Are they going to increase student fees? Is there a student in the country who will vote for them? Are they going to keep people in semi states and the public sector on salaries of 750,000? Are they going to cut the waste in the public sector and transform it by virtue of controlling the purse strings?

    Time to drop the fig leaf and tell us what you are going to do, the time for posturing is over. Are Labour/ Unions / Croke Park the one entity? Please don’t try to befuddle us with riddles because we will dig down into the riddles to expose the truth.

  5. Latest from Eamon Gilmore is that he will table a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the government next week to force an immediate election. As reported on the radio, Gilmore said the budget was no longer urgent as the original intention for the four year plan, with the budget as its first phase of implementation was to impress the bond markets, and since we’re now not going to be in the markets for the next three years we can have the election first. Vintage stuff! You really have to wonder sometimes what kind of pills these people are on.

  6. @Veronica,

    I’m sure you’re well aware that the pills are “retention of power”, “minimising an electoral hiding and avoiding being our of power for two terms” and “possibility of securing power”. While the political power that is secured or retained borders on the absolute, it will always come before any consideration of the national or public interest. This power must be separated, diffused and subject to checks and balances; otherwise we’re at nothing and might as well consent to continuing governance by the EC/ECB/IMF.

    • @Paul
      Agree entirely with you about checks and balances

      “The key issue is that we need a way of governing ourselves with checks and balances which limit the scope for excess by the powerful (public and private, elected and appointed) so that we have competent and moderate government focused on the common good, instead of being focused on grand gestures.”

      For more, see my response to Jane Suiter’s thread on Stephen Collins article in ITimes on Saturday last

  7. @Paul,

    They’ll be in office, but not in power. Whoever takes over can delude themselves as much as they like; swan around in those fancy cars with a designated driver whom they leave outside a restaurant whilst they wine and dine to their heart’s content, go on three or four foreign holidays a year as they’ve already grown accustomed to but to fancier locations, wear dark sunglasses on cloudy days because it’s such a drag, you know, being recognised by ‘commoners’ all the time. (Believe me I had many years of experience of a political figure who actually thinks like this, listened to it, and then quietly laughed to myself at such needy vanity, but always reckoned it was pretty harmless, until now.) They can have all that, but the shots will be called elsewhere.

    What concerned me about Eamon’s reported statement – and it’s possible the radio station had picked him up incorrectly – is that it’s so economically and politically illiterate. The negotiation of a reasonable package with the IMF/EU etc. surely requires that Ireland demonstrates a genuine willingness to do the hard graft itself? And what’s Eamon’s hurry? It’s obvious Labour will probably double its representation, and more, in the GE, so they get into ‘office’ anyway whether the election is in January, which is bad news unless the budget and the Fiance Bill are done and dusted and all the arrangements for the bailout already agreed and signed off, or in March. It’s an historical fact that Labour has always exercised more power over FG in government at moments of critical decision-making e.g. the 1980s experience. So Eamon will run rings around Enda, which he would do even on a bad hair day. It’s even theoretically possible that we could be looking at Eamon as Taoiseach, and Gerry as Tanaiste.

    Sadly, I’m inclined to think you have a point.

  8. @veronica,

    The pervasive hypocrisy is breath-taking. FF has known that the bank burden was too much for the small Irish economy to bear for the last two years, but persisted with the fiction that it could cope to protect its hide. The EU is pretending it’s being really helpful, but is really throwing money at Ireland to force Irish taxpayers to cough up to protect French and German banks from the implications of their stupid investment decisions. Labour seeks to conceal its protection of well-heeled insiders and inefficient practices in the broader public sector by bleating about the impact on the unemployed and social welfare receipients. FG can’t figure out if its FF-lite or a modern, centrist party and tries to have it both ways. The Greens are running now because they reckon they might escape the full wrath of the voters which they deserve – and Minister Gormley reckons he’s done enough to scupper the Poolbeg incerator and Minister Ryan has locked in as many of his costly Green fantasies as he reckons he could get away with.

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