McDaid expected to back budget despite row

Tue, Dec 1, 2009, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT says it is confident maverick Donegal TD Jim McDaid will support next week’s budget notwithstanding his threat to vote with the Opposition following an internal Fianna Fáil dispute in his constituency.

Dr McDaid, a former minister who lost the whip last year, e-mailed Government chief whip Pat Carey yesterday to say he was withdrawing support from the party.

This followed a heated meeting in the Fianna Fáil Donegal North East constituency on Sunday night when ongoing tensions between Dr McDaid’s camp and those of his constituency colleague, Niall Blaney, came to a head.

At a meeting of the Letterkenny/Milford comhairle ceantair to appoint new officers, Dr McDaid and a number of his supporters walked out after two supporters of Mr Blaney were elected to officer roles.

In his letter to Mr Carey, Dr McDaid claimed it had been made clear to him that he was “superfluous” to the party’s requirements.

Mr Carey replied by e-mail to the Donegal deputy in what was described as a “conciliatory tone”.

The chief whip told The Irish Timeshe was anxious to make sure everybody in a position to support the Government was available to do so. Government sources yesterday played down concerns about the passage of the budget through the Dáil next week. They said that even if Dr McDaid voted against it, the Government would have a slim majority and would not have to rely on the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party comprises 72 TDs, plus a further two who have lost the party whip. They are its two Sligo TDs, Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon, both of whom resigned from the parliamentary party over the loss of cancer services in their constituency.

They are nonetheless expected to vote in favour of the budget. The Coalition partners, the Greens, have six TDs. The two Progressive Democrats also support the Government, as do two Independents Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry.

In the absence of Dr McDaid’s support, and if Dr Devins’s and Mr Scanlon’s support is included, the combined total of the Government vote would be 84 out of 165.

In the unlikely event of all three TDs not under the whip voting against the Government, both sides of the House could command 82 votes. The Ceann Comhairle would have the casting vote and, traditionally, the Ceann Comhairle has voted with the Government.

The dispute was described by senior sources in Government yesterday as a “local problem” that would be resolved within days. It was also pointed out that Dr McDaid has spoken publicly in favour of the Government’s budgetary strategy.

However, Dr McDaid’s e-mail also gives public notice for the first time that he will consider voting against the Government, although he does not mention any specific issue. He does refer to previous decisions by him to abstain or be absent on Dáil votes in the past.

Mr Blaney, whose organisation returned to the Fianna Fáil fold in 2006, told The Irish Timeshe was “shocked” by what happened on Sunday night. “I never came back to Fianna Fáil to cause acrimony . . . as of now I’d offer to sit down with Jim McDaid and his people,” Mr Blaney said.

TDs who withdrew support from Fianna Fáil

When the Dáil resumed after the 2007 general election, the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern formed a coalition with 90 seats. That was reduced to 89 following the appointment of Fianna Fáil’s John O’Donoghue to the position of ceann comhairle.

The Government had a majority of 13 thanks to the support of six Greens, two Progressive Democrats and four Independents: Jackie Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Finian McGrath and Beverley Flynn.

While Fianna Fáil’s strength rose to 79 when Ms Flynn was readmitted to the party, its majority was unchanged as she already supported the Government.

In October 2008, Wicklow TD Joe Behan resigned from Fianna Fáil in protest over medical card cuts for over 70-year-olds. He has voted against the Government on several occasions.

Independent Finian McGrath withdrew his support, citing education cuts as well as the medical card issue.

Dr Jim McDaid had the Fianna Fáil whip withdrawn last November when he abstained in a Dáil vote on the HPV vaccine.

In the event of all the deputies who are not under the whip, including Dr McDaid, voting against the Government, the result of a Dáil vote could be 82/82.

In that case, the Ceann Comhairle, who has traditionally voted with the Government, would have the casting vote.