Fine Gael far from alone in facing a revolt against party discipline
Free vote in Fianna Fáil sees most Oireachtas members oppose views of Micheál Martin
More than two-thirds of the Fianna Fáil party in the Oireachtas have voted against the position of their leader. Photograph: Eric Luke
That should come as no surprise, as he would not be Taoiseach today if he did not have the toughness to survive almost a decade in opposition when he was widely denigrated inside as well as outside his party.
His determination to crush opposition to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill stems from the calculation that any wavering on the legislation could have undermined his Government.
The events of the past week have justified his judgment that a softer line with the internal opponents of the legislation could have thrown the Coalition into chaos by this stage.
The revolt of four Fine Gael TDs out of 76 on the second stage of the Bill stands in sharp contrast to the position in Fianna Fáil, where more than two-thirds of the parliamentary party voted against the line adopted by their party leader, Micheál Martin.
The scale of the Fianna Fáil revolt arose from the fact that no whip was applied. Martin allowed a free vote on the Bill, not because he was suddenly persuaded that his TDs should be allowed to follow the dictates of their conscience, but because he knew that an attempt to impose the whip would have split his party.
Four or five Fianna Fáil TDs made it clear during the internal debate on the Bill that they would have to vote against it come what may. Given the party’s fragile state, with just 19 TDs in the Dáil, that would have spelled an end to any prospect of recovery. The pragmatic response was to allow a free vote and keep everybody inside the tent.
It was a real shock, though, that 13 of his 19 TDs took the opposite line to their leader. There are strong suspicions in Leinster House that in the end political calculation and not just conscience played a significant part in determining the number of Fianna Fáil TDs who voted against.
A free vote in Fine Gael could have resulted in something similar. It is still unclear how many rebels there will ultimately be in the party but it seems as if the maximum will be seven or eight with the minimum five.
Party sources believe that if there was a free vote the number opposing the legislation could have been between 20 and 30 with Fine Gael TDs being stampeded in the same manner as their Fianna Fáil colleagues. A revolt on that scale could have undermined the Bill and put severe stress on the Coalition. Politically that was a risk Kenny could not afford to take.
In the past week events in Portugal have demonstrated just how quickly political instability can have direct consequences for a country’s economic wellbeing. While the crisis in Portugal is directly related to its government’s economic policies the country’s capacity to exit its bailout depends on having a government with a secure majority.