Europe

Irish Republic's government remains mired in confusion

Green Party leader John Gormley outside government buildings in Dublin
Image caption Green Party leader John Gormley waved goodbye to the alliance with Fianna Fail

The cameras flashed and the radio reporters rushed to push the on buttons on their machines as the Green parliamentary party entered the Dublin hotel room.

We were told they would clarify their position and the uncertainty and confusion that has bedevilled Irish politics in recent days.

John Gormley, the party leader, stood at a wall of microphones and announced they were pulling out of their coalition with Fianna Fail but would support the Finance Bill from the opposition benches.

The bill, which both Fianna Fail and the Greens regard as a national priority, is important because it is a central commitment that the Republic of Ireland government entered into as part of the 85bn euro (£72.4bn) European and IMF bailout loan announced last November.

The Greens want all-party talks on Monday to see if the legislation can be rushed through the Dail, the Republic's parliament.

The opposition parties believe it can all be enacted by Friday and that the general election should then be called.

Fianna Fail and the Greens suspect it may take a little longer.

February election?

After Brian Cowen's resignation Fianna Fail is now a party without a leader and a coalition partner, and pressure is growing for a general election earlier than the 11 March date announced last week.

Mr Gormley's statement makes it a virtual certainty that the people of the Republic will go to the polls sometime in February.

But the fog of uncertainty remains.

That's because we still don't know whether the Finance Bill can be passed and, if so, when.

Nor do we have a date for a general election, although it will almost certainly be sooner rather than later.

The opposition parties have threatened votes of no confidence in both the Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, and his government this week.

Image caption Micheal Martin remains the favourite to lead Fianna Fail into a general election

If the votes go ahead - and it's not yet clear that they will - it is unlikely the minority Fianna Fail government can win.

Such a defeat would bring the general election even sooner.

And Fianna Fail, the party that has been in power for 22 of the last 24 years, will face the electorate in the worst shape of all the parties.

It is widely perceived as being part of an unholy trinity of property developers and bankers that brought Ireland to financial ruin.

It does not have a leader, at least not until Wednesday. There is no face to put on the posters, no posters and it is in significant debt and compared to its rivals, way behind in candidate selection.

Micheal Martin, the former foreign minister who resigned last week because he had no confidence in Mr Cowen, remains the favourite.

But, whoever wins, the polls consistently show that Fianna Fail is heading for the biggest loss of seats in its history and certain defeat.

The party may make up a minority government but that government is now on a life support system awaiting the inevitable decision to turn it off.

The Greens may have hoped to end the uncertainty but it soon became clear: confusion still reigns.