A majority of Green Party TDs and Senators have supported a call for Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu to step aside as chairwoman of the party for the duration of her bid to be elected to the Seanad.
However, while the motion was passed by 11 votes to five, exceeding the required two-thirds majority, the parliamentary party does not have the power to make her step aside from the role. The result is to be communicated to the party’s executive committee which does have the ability to do this.
It is understood the committee would have to go through its own deliberative process and possibly its own vote on whether or not Ms Chu should step aside as chairwoman.
The vote took place at a private meeting of the parliamentary party where the mood was said to range from “sombre” to “rancorous”.
Earlier, Ms Chu said that requests for her to step aside should be handled by the party’s executive committee, not its group of TDs and Senators.
She told The Irish Times: “As my position of Cathaoirleach of the party is mandated directly by the membership, any request for me to step down [even as a temporary measure] should properly come from the membership or via their representatives on the executive committee.
“Motions passed by other bodies of the party are not binding, and so any issues raised by the parliamentary party around my position as Cathaoirleach should be directed to the executive.”
Senators Pauline O’Reilly, Pippa Hackett and Róisín Garvey had originally tabled a motion of no confidence in Ms Chu as party chairwoman last week but it was withdrawn before Wednesday’s meeting. However, the one calling for Ms Chu to temporarily step aside remained on the agenda.
Ms O’Reilly had argued it was inappropriate for Ms Chu to run as an Independent candidate for the Seanad while serving in the role.
Mr Ryan wanted Green Party members to support the Government candidate in the Seanad race, Fianna Fáil’s Gerry Horkan, in the expectation that the other Coalition parties would support a Green candidate should another vacancy arise.
However, Ms Chu secured a nomination to stand as an Independent candidate. The party’s deputy leader Catherine Martin was among those who signed Ms Chu’s nomination papers.
Divisions in the party were exposed at the meeting amid interventions by Mr Ryan and Ms Martin.
Sources said Ms Martin appealed for the matter to be referred to the executive committee rather than holding a vote at the parliamentary party meeting that could prove divisive.
Executive committee chairwoman Blaithín Gallagher is said to have asked the same with both arguing the vote would have no effect if passed.
However, sources said Mr Ryan joined those who tabled the motion in calling for the vote to take place. He is said to have been of the view that the parliamentary party should have a chance to express its opinion. Mr Ryan is also said to have asked colleagues to support Coalition candidates in the upcoming Seanad byelections as it would help the party’s ability to deliver on programme for government goals.
Five Oireachtas members – all of whom had signed Ms Chu’s nomination papers – voted against the motion. They were Catherine Martin, Francis Noel Duffy, Vincent Martin, Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan.
Dublin Fingal TD Joe O’Brien, who had also signed the Seanad nomination papers, voted in favour of the motion as did Mr Ryan and the rest of the parliamentary party.
Mr O’Brien explained why he voted the way he did having previously signed Ms Chu’s nomination papers saying “they were separate issues”.
He told The Irish Times: “I’ve spent many years working in NGO sector to encourage and support minorities to run for election so it was difficult for me to not help her get on the ballot at least.
“I also assisted her to get on the ballot considering the very closed nature of Seanad electoral process which I think is generally agreed needs to be reformed.”
He added: “I’ve met with Hazel about the current situation and she understands my position.
“Tonight was about the best way forward now that she is a candidate.
“We remain on good terms,” he said.