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
When that was threatened, Portugal’s borrowing costs rose rapidly to unsustainable levels.
They came down a little when the Government showed it might have the capacity to weather the crisis but it was a warning about the potential impact of political instability, not just for Portugal but the whole euro zone.
The reason Ireland is on target to exit the bailout stems from the rock-solid majority that underpins the Government. A rift between the Coalition parties at this stage could undo all the hard work done to reach the troika targets.
For those who regard the abortion legislation as a matter of conscience, the question of political stability is not the main issue, but then again it can be difficult to determine where conscience ends and political considerations begin. The American writer Ambrose Bierce once defined politics as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles”. That could apply equally to both sides of the argument on the abortion legislation.
While Kenny has kept the number of dissenters down to manageable proportions by his tough line he may have to review that stance over time in order to avoid damaging the long-term interests of Fine Gael. The four TDs who voted against the second stage of the Bill have already been turfed out of their offices, lost their places on committees and told they will not be running as Fine Gael candidates next time around.
Minister of State Lucinda Creighton seems certain to join them and there could be another one or two more when the report stage of the Bill is taken on Wednesday. The same disciplinary procedures will apply and the question will then arise as to what action the dissenting TDs will then take.
A lot will depend on whether they see any future for themselves in Fine Gael. If they don’t they could be tempted into joining the technical group in the Dáil or even forming a new party.
It is unlikely that the Fine Gael rebels would find the prospect of joining the technical group very attractive, but if they want speaking time they may have no other option. They can’t go off and form another technical group as Dáil standing orders permit only one. However, if there are seven of them and they band together to form a new party, they could get speaking rights in the Dáil.
However, it is difficult to see seven expelled Fine Gael TDs making common cause on issues apart from abortion, never mind engaging in the long and expensive process of forming a new party and getting it registered. Most of them would much prefer to return to the Fine Gael fold.
After taking the tough line in advance of the vote and getting the result he wanted, Kenny will be urged by people in his party to soften his stance and, in due course, to allow back those who want to return. That appears a more likely option than the emergence of a new party.