Ryan ‘confident’ rebel TDs will not break ranks while suspended

Minister plays down suggestions the Government had been weakened

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan says he is confident two party TDs who voted against the Government in the Dáil on Wednesday over the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) will not break ranks again.

Mr Ryan said the party “with regret” suspended Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello from the parliamentary party for six months after they voted in favour of a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to own the land on which the NMH will be built.

“They have strong views and they are entitled to that, but we manage it in our way,” Mr Ryan said. “Our parliamentary party yesterday showed real consensus. We have strength. And this is part of our our tradition in terms of how we work collectively, including applying sanctions. I think we did that in a way that was totally appropriate.”

He said the Green Party had a serious responsibility in government to implement a programme with a very strong green dimension, and it was important that all TDs and Senators voted for the Government.

Mr Ryan said he was confident that both TDs would support the Government during the six months period of suspension. He said that Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello supported the Government in subsequent votes last night.

The Government majority in the Dáil is now reduced the bare minimum, with 80 TDs under the whip of Coalition parties in the chamber of 160 members, which includes the Ceann Comhairle.

Playing down suggestions that the Government had been weakened, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the Coalition was “happy that we have a majority”.

Ms Humphreys said “we don’t like to see colleagues losing the whip but hopefully they’ll be back shortly”.

Dáil exchanges

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government still had a majority in the Dáil a substantial majority in the Seanad.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Solidarity TD Mick Barry who said after the events of Wednesday night, the Government only had a “paper thin majority” and was “significantly more vulnerable to pressure”.

The Cork North-Central TD said he believed pressure would grow from working people “hard hit by the cost of living crisis”.

In response, Mr Varadkar said “you can rest assured that the Government still has a majority in the Dáil, and still has a substantial majority in the Seanad.

“As you pointed out yourself there’s little or no evidence that the Opposition parties would be able to come together to form an alternative Government.

“You don’t need an election to form an alternative government, you could have formed one together, two years ago, a left wing government and you decided not to and that hasn’t changed.”

Dublin Central TD Ms Hourigan declined to comment on her suspension from the parliamentary party.

Ms Hourigan will be able to keep her role as chairwoman of the Budgetary Oversight Committee despite losing the whip.Mr Costello can also stay on as a member of the Committee on Children as the sanctions do not include their committee work.

While the reduced coalition majority represents a significant blow for the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Green Party administration, Independent TDs often vote with the Government to bolsters the numbers.

Asked whether the Canadian trade deal (Ceta) - which Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello oppose - would become a stumbling block when it returns to be voted on by the Oireachtas, Mr Ryan said he understood that the Supreme Court had requested a second hearing on the issue. Mr Costello has taken a legal case challenging the legal and constitutional standing of the deal.

Ceta

The Government has confirmed that it is considering the next steps in Ireland’s ratification of the Ceta deal remains on hold until after the Supreme Court delivers its judgment.

While a judgement is expected this year it is unclear whether it will be delivered before Mr Costello and Ms Hourigan have the opportunity to return to Government benches in mid-November.

A Department of Enterprise spokeswoman said: "The Supreme Court is currently considering an appeal against last September's judgement of the High Court, which rejected Deputy Patrick Costello's legal challenge to the proposed ratification by the Government of the Ceta agreement.

“It remains the position that the Government will consider the next steps in Ireland’s ratification process for the Ceta agreement once the Supreme Court has delivered its judgement.”

Ceta is primarily a trade treaty designed to reduce tariffs and increase trade between the EU and Canada. It came into force provisionally in 2017, but all national parliaments in EU countries need to ratify the deal before it can take full effect.

The deal provides the establishment of an investment court system aimed at resolving disputes between investors and EU member states.

If ratified, a code of rules will come into force under which Ireland will be bound by restrictions relating to establishment of investments by Canadian investors here.

Mr Costello has claimed that the ability of these investor tribunals to decide on complaints by Canadians who invest in the State involves an unconstitutional transfer of sovereignty and national judicial power.

In Supreme Court proceedings in March, Mr Costello’s counsel, John Rogers SC, told the seven-judge court this was the “most important” case it will hear this year regarding the constitutional rule of law in the State.

Mr Rogers submitted that the State cannot authorise the treaty “without the mandate of the people”.