I have always liked the term ‘cross-bencher’ that applies to the non-affiliates in the House of Lord. They are kind of independent but not independent in the true sense.
It’s a term that could apply to the semi-detached members of Fianna Fail, the northwestern triumvirate of Jim McDaid, Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon.
None will be admitted back into the fold for a long while though all know that a fatted calf awaits them sometime between now and 2011.
It’s true that the Government has now thrown away a majority of 13 and it’s technically even-steven, 82 assured Government votes and 82 others. But it’s really 85 votes to 79 because the three rebels will support the Government in all the major votes.
The only difficulty will be when the oppositoin parties start making mischief and lob in private members motions on cancer services in the North West or on the closure of hospitals etc. McDaid has already abstained on cervical cancer and it’s likely that the other two will have no choice but to follow suit if such a motion is voted upon. The Government will then have the embarrassment of coming perilously close to losing a vote, or in the worst case scenario, relying on the casting vote of Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue.
The real difficulty for the Government in terms of survivability won’t come from Devins or Scanlon but from others. There are a couple of flakey and volatile deputies within the Fianna Fail ranks. There is also a growing band of the disaffected, those thwarted in their ambition or who have been sacked by Cowen.
And it’s axiomatic that horrendous cuts will have to be imposed during the autumn that will shock people in behind the marrow. The big danger for Government isn’t the Greens or the two independents or even the former PDs. It’s the enemy within – Fianna Fail’s own backbenchers who will be pressurised by lobby groups in their constituencies or want to even the score with Cowen and his cabal.
And they may precipitate the early downfall of a Government that looked impregnable for a five-year-term in 2007.