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Ireland's Green Party votes to stay in coalition government

October 11, 2009|Associated Press

DUBLIN — Members of Ireland's environmentalist Green Party voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to stay in Prime Minister Brian Cowen's coalition government as it battles a runaway deficit, surging unemployment and crippled banks.

Defeat for the Green leaders' pro-government motion at a special party conference would have torpedoed Cowen's 2-year-old coalition and forced Ireland into an early parliamentary election.

But Green members voted 523-99 to support a package of revised government policies and goals. That surpassed the two-thirds "yes" that the party required for the 43-page document, which was negotiated over nine days and completed Friday night -- barely in time for the Green gathering.

Green Party leader John Gormley, who also is Ireland's environment minister, said the government faced painful choices to cut spending, raise taxes and commit tens of billions to bailing out the nation's major banks.

"We have no illusions. Some very hard decisions have to be made," Gormley said.

Had Green leaders failed to persuade members, the party's lawmakers would have been obliged to withdraw their pivotal parliamentary support from Cowen, leader of the rival Fianna Fail party, leaving him unable to pass critical legislation.

Unique among Irish parties, the Greens require strong, formal backing from members before they can change policies.

Overshadowing Saturday's debate and vote was the likelihood that, if the Greens triggered an election, they would suffer humiliating losses. All recent polls rate both Fianna Fail and the Greens at record-low popularity levels as Ireland endures its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

Cowen welcomed the Greens' vote in favor of the new policy document and forecast that the coalition would run its full five-year term to 2012.

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