Greens’ coalition partners: ‘Now we know not to count them into our figures’

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs glad voting indiscipline has come now and not on budget

‘If that was Fine Gael, Joe O’Brien would not be in position any more.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

‘If that was Fine Gael, Joe O’Brien would not be in position any more.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

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Members of a Government voting against its own legislation always sets nerves jangling; even more so when those involved are a party’s chief whip and a Minister of State.

But the Green Party’s very public crisis of conscience over the Residential Tenancies Bill has led some among the ranks of their coalition partners to question the party’s interest in, or ability to, make hard political calls.

“It speaks for itself, doesn’t it?” said one Fine Gael Minister of State. “Government is about making tough decisions where they are palatable or not … If you don’t have the mettle for that, then you shouldn’t be in government.”

The fact that Neasa Hourigan and Joe O’Brien’s actions come after weeks of crises for the Government hasn’t endeared them to some colleagues. “There is no doubt we got off to a very shaky, rocky start,” said a Fianna Fáil Minister of State on Friday. “Last night added to the fiasco.”

However, there is also a degree of acceptance among some of their coalition partners. “I’m delighted they did it now rather than on the budget, because now we know we just don’t count them into our figures,” says the same Fianna Fáil source. “At least we know where we stand when we come back.”

Others in Fianna Fáil, in particular, pointed to the quiet but relatively steadfast support for the Government from the rural Independent group as a potential emergency vote reserve.

The failure of the two Green TDs to support the Government, however, will bring added pressure come budget time, sources say. This, in particular, will put an onus on Eamon Ryan to identify early on those issues that his parliamentary party may object to.

“Eamon Ryan has to be able to calibrate the mood of the budget, and if there’s something he knows that he can’t deliver his membership on, he has to inform the other two leaders,” remarks a source.

Light punishment

The idea that Green concerns may have to be managed more closely has sparked rumblings of discontent in some quarters, especially given Ryan’s relatively light punishment of his two deputies.

“If that was Fine Gael, Joe O’Brien would not be in position any more,” says a source in that party. “There’s no incentive there not to do it again.”

A Fianna Fáil TD said the eight-week suspension of speaking rights should not kick in until the Dáil resumes. “As an elected representative, the worst thing you can tell any of us to do is not talk,” the TD said.

“The three large parties have black-and-white procedures for people who vote against the party position,” says another Fianna Fáil source. “When it comes to discipline they’re 40 shades of Green.”

There is also a feeling that further stumbling blocks will emerge before the budget.

Opposition figures believe that alongside Hourigan, TDs like Francis Noel Duffy and Patrick Costello could be equally shaky on measures they believe fall short. Promised legislation on affordable housing in September may be the next flashpoint. Ditto transport, where everything from local cycling infrastructure to major investments in roads projects could spark conflict.

As another Fianna Fáil junior minister said: “I think we have a few windy ones in the Greens, and it was the first taste of windiness.”