TD absences result in close call


DÁIL VOTE:GOVERNMENT CHIEF Whip Pat Carey has called seven Fianna Fáil deputies to a meeting with him on a one-to-one basis next Tuesday to discuss their absence during crucial votes in the Dáil yesterday.

The absence of the TDs without a pairing arrangement almost resulted in a defeat for the Government on a financial resolution and could potentially have led to a general election.

The missing deputies were: chairman of the party John Browne, Chris Andrews, Niall Collins, Beverley Flynn, Tom Kitt, Michael Moynihan and MJ Nolan.

Mr Carey said: “The number of narrow votes in the Dáil today are of serious concern to the Government and I.

“I am extremely disappointed with the absence of a number of Government TDs. I would emphasise that these absences were not part of any pairing arrangement with the Opposition.

“I have now written to each absent deputy requesting a meeting next Tuesday to discuss their absence. Along with looking for an explanation for their absence, I will be setting out clearly what their obligations are as Government deputies.

“I will also be making sure that this message relating to obligations of Government deputies is reiterated at the meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday evening next.”

Mr Kitt told The Irish Times he was given permission to leave for the day: “I voted on the Order of Business and with the permission of the Whip’s Office I left to go to the funeral of Joe Daly, well-known for his cycle shop in Dundrum. The Whip’s Office texted me that there were difficulties: I rushed back to the Dáil and got in for the last vote, which the Government won 65-61.”

Asked about his absence from the Dáil, Mr Andrews said: “I had a personal issue that I had to deal with.” Fine Gael Chief Whip Paul Kehoe TD said the absence of the Fianna Fail TDs “showed the extent of the disarray in Government ranks”.

“The Government tied with the Opposition by 63 votes to 63, and the vote on resolutions to the Finance Bill was only passed when the Ceann Comhairle used his casting vote. This is the narrowest Government vote in years.”

Despite internal party rumblings over the position of Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, five of the six Green TDs turned up to vote.

The sixth deputy, Minister of State Trevor Sargent, was excused as he was away on business.

The 63-63 tied vote took place at 12.50pm on a motion for the presentation and circulation of Revised Estimates for 2010.

Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk said: “There is an equality of votes.Therefore, pursuant to article 15.11.2 of the Constitution, I must exercise my casting vote. I vote for the question in this case, the result of the vote now being: Tá, 64; Níl, 63.”

A number of Opposition TDs were locked out during an electronic vote on a set of financial resolutions at 1pm, and Fine Gael sources said the normal allocation of time for deputies to reach the chamber was not observed.

The Government had a majority but it became null and void when Fine Gael whip Paul Kehoe called a walk-through vote, which the Government won by 65 to 61.

Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea was absent from the Dáil but a spokesman for the Government Whip said his absence was notified in advance and was “accounted for” prior to yesterday’s sitting: “He had permission to be absent.”

Fine Gael whip Paul Kehoe said:“Everyone expects the Greens to walk out of Government at some stage.

“But it would be truly ironic if Fianna Fáil lost a crucial vote thanks to its own members.”

Explaining the absence of the Fianna Fáil deputies, informed sources said that “morale is pretty low” due to a perceived lack of interaction between backbenchers and the party leadership.

The Numbers: Support For The Government

The Government has 82 committed votes in the Dáil at present, including 72 Fianna Fáil TDs, six Greens, two former Progressive Democrats and two Independents.

Three other Independents – Dr Jimmy Devins, Dr James McDaid and Eamon Scanlon – invariably vote with the Government. The Opposition consists of 51 Fine Gael deputies, 20 Labour, four Sinn Féin and Independents Finian McGrath and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Joe Behan has been known to vote for or against the Government on different issues – mostly against.

In the case of a tied vote, the Ceann Comhairle votes with the Government. There are two vacant Dáil seats following the election of Pat “the Cope” Gallagher to the European Parliament and the resignation of Fine Gael’s George Lee, leaving a total of 164 sitting deputies.

If the Greens had gone into Opposition, the Government would have had 76 committed votes and could expect to get the support of three Independents, making a total of 79, compared to an Opposition total of 83 – 84 if they had the support of Mr Behan.