Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has asked his Ministers to refrain from criticising Shane Ross because it leads to a public "back and forth" between Fine Gael and its Independent Alliance colleagues.
Mr Varadkar made the request at the weekly meeting of his party’s Ministers before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, where there were further differences between Fine Gael and its independent colleagues on an upcoming Dáil vote calling for a ban on the sale of goods produced in occupied Palestinian territories.
The Cabinet meeting last week heard a string of Fine Gael Ministers outline concerns over increased drink driving checkpoints, particularly in the mornings, as a result of tighter laws championed by Mr Ross, the Minister for Transport.
Among those who spoke on the issue last week were Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring. Mr Flanagan, while conveying feedback from his constituents in Laois, said the law must be obeyed.
Mr Ross subsequently publicly criticised Ministers who would raise such concerns, saying: “It goes without saying that any Minister who would oppose gardaí enforcing the law would be unfit for Government.”
One Minister, while acknowledging the dim view in Fine Gael towards Mr Ross, said Mr Varadkar had asked his party colleagues to ease off on criticising Mr Ross as doing so leads to a “back and forth” between Government colleagues.
“He was saying that one [news] story leads to another,” a Fine Gael source said. “And that it makes it harder to get things to where we want them to go.”
In the Dáil this week, Mr Ross and Finian McGrath, the Minister of State for Disability Issues, want to back the Fianna Fáil Bill on the occupied territories, which was originally tabled by Frances Black in the Seanad.
Sources said Mr McGrath and Mr Ross asked that it be recorded in the Cabinet record that they did not agree to support the Government on the issue.
A Government spokesman noted that the Cabinet had decided to oppose the Bill last year, and said Attorney General Séamus Woulfe had advised that it would contravene EU law and lead to substantial fines being levied on the State.
Mr Ross is also said to have told the meeting that the Attorney General’s advice was “not sacroscanct”, while Mr McGrath said the settlements were in contravention of UN resolutions.
Sources also said Mr McGrath and Mr Ross brought their own legal advice to the meeting, which was written by a legal adviser for Ms Black.
Both Ministers will now liaise with Tánaiste Simon Coveney on the issue. However, it is understood that Mr Coveney last week told the four members of the Independent Alliance – which also includes Ministers of State John Halligan and Kevin "Boxer" Moran – he would be willing to allow them abstain on the vote but asked them not to vote against the Government.
A number of sources present at the meeting said Mr Coveney expressed a concern that Israel could close its embassy in Dublin if a number of Ministers voted for the Bill, with those present at the meeting also claiming there were further worries about a knock-on effect on Irish-US relations.