Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Heave: One Irish institution that is still working

Practically everything in Ireland seems to be in crisis at the moment, but the parliamentary system of leadership accountability seems to be one shining exception. With the Irish financial system and economy in collapse, Taoiseach (that's Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and his Fianna Fail government are in tremendous trouble, down in the polls, forced by the European Union to make hugely unpopular decisions, losing their coalition partners, barely holding their majority. But is the embattled Taoiseach firing TDs (that's MPs) right and left when they express concern about his leadership and policy choices -- the way any Canadian leader would?

No, it's the other way round. The government-side TDs, meeting in formal caucus, are deciding whether or not their leader should stay on as leader. For the moment, they've decided to keep him.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen threw down the gauntlet to his party critics last night, declaring that he had no intention of stepping down and pointing out that mechanisms were available to those who wished to launch a challenge against him.

A crowded meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on the fifth floor of Leinster House heard approximately two dozen speeches, about half of them in favour of Mr Cowen, a half-dozen against him and another half dozen taking what one TD called a “neutral” tone.
The meeting decided not to remove Cowan, for the moment at least.  Meanwhile Cabinet Minister Mary Hanifin speculates openly about when she will ask caucus to replace Mr Cowan -- with her. Since caucus supports this kind of debate, she remains in caucus and cabinet:
Ms Hanafin threw her hat into the ring to become Fianna Fail leader, but insisted that she would not move against embattled Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Ms Hanafin, who Mr Cowen has twice demoted, yesterday said she would not lead any heave against the Taoiseach. But she said if a vacancy arose she would run for the job.
"The heave" (pronounced more or less "da hoive" - at least in rural Ireland) is the lovely Irish expression for that fundamental process of parliamentary democracy: a caucus removing a failed leader, in preparation for selecting a successor.

(Photo source: Irish Times.)
Follow @CmedMoore