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.