Naughten loses Fine Gael whip

 

Fine Gael backbencher Denis Naughten has lost the party whip after he voted against the Government on the downgrading of hospital services last night.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe confirmed that following a meeting with Mr Naughten today, the Fine Gael Whip had been automatically removed from him "in accordance with the Fine Gael Constitution and rules".

The Roscommon TD sided with a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to live up to its election commitments and retain emergency services at a number of hospitals, including that at Roscommon.

The emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital is to close from next Monday.

Constituency and party colleague Frank Feighan, who voted with the Government, denied turning his back on the people of Roscommon and said it was a “very very difficult decision” to make.

Mr Feighan said he received “a lot of abuse” in the last two weeks but refused to be “bullied into making decisions”.

“The night before I got a phone call saying a man would put a bullet in my head, people spat at me yesterday,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

While the Government’s large majority meant it defeated the motion comfortably, by 96 votes to 47, the defection of Mr Naughten so early in its term is embarrassing for the Coalition. It may also place increased pressure on other Government backbenchers in future votes on contentious issues.

“My problem was that I had given my word based on a commitment that I had been given by the party. And I couldn’t in all honesty face the people of Roscommon and tell them that I was turning my back on them,” Mr Naughten told reporters.

“That was the position I was left in, the most difficult decision that I have had to make.”

Recently appointed chairman of the Oireachtas health committee, Mr Naughten would have been expected to supervise the scrutiny of departmental expenditure and the processing of proposals for legislation. He is expected to now step down from that position.

Speaking about Mr Naughten’s decision this morning Mr Feighan said “Dennis was in a very difficult position…he had said that if Roscommon services were downgraded he’d resign and he was hounded for that resignation.”

Mr Feighan said he would not be able to stand by his pre-election promise to safeguard services at the hospital because it would have been detrimental to the country.

“This was a 2-foot wave, there’s 5-metre waves coming down the line…I decided that if I had resigned the fate of this Government would have lasted about a year because there’re a lot of issues coming down the road and I think that we need to hold strong.”

More than 1,000 people protested outside Leinster House yesterday evening.

Earlier Taoiseach Enda Kenny had denied a claim by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that he had misled people on the issue during the general election campaign, dismissing the criticism as “pathetic”.

Asked last night about the consequences for Mr Naughten, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe said he was “dealing with the issue”.