Ministers face travel ‘lockdown’ over Dáil votes

Taoiseach and Chief Whip warn Ministers Government losing too many votes

While one source described the conversation with the Taoiseach as ‘housekeeping’, another said that Ministers were effectively told that they need to do better. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

While one source described the conversation with the Taoiseach as ‘housekeeping’, another said that Ministers were effectively told that they need to do better. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Ministers have been told to cancel future mid-week travel plans and to make sure they are present for votes in the Dáil after being warned by the Taoiseach and Chief Whip that the Government is losing too many votes.

An email has been sent to Ministers informing them that they must be present in the Dáil on Wednesdays and Thursdays in case votes are called, and the issue was also raised by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Chief Whip Seán Kyne during a pre-Cabinet discussion last week.

The practice of pairing will also be stopped.

While one source described the conversation with the Taoiseach as “housekeeping”, another said that Ministers were effectively told that they need to do better. “It’s an effective lockdown to make sure that we make the votes. We got an email from the Chief Whip’s office as well saying that, from now on, we will have to be around on Wednesdays and Thursdays so Ministers can no longer travel around the country mid-week on engagements.

“Some of it is Brexit-related, but the main reason is that we are losing votes unnecessarily. A very strong line is being taken on this. The only excuse for not being there during those times that will be accepted is if we are out of the country. It’s a clampdown.”

Losing votes

Last May, the Government lost a series of votes on data protection legislation including one on the digital age of consent. Fifteen Fine Gael members were not in the chamber as the Dáil voted to accept 16 as the digital age of consent with the support of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour. The vote was 56 to 51. According to the official Oireachtas record, Ministers who were not present for the vote included Paschal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys and Michael Creed. Ms Humphreys was paired, an arrangement whereby a TD of one party agrees with a TD of an opposing party not to vote, giving both TDs the opportunity to be elsewhere. She was on a trade mission.

Last October, the Government lost a vote calling for a better response to the housing crisis. The Dáil vote was lost 83 to 43 with Fianna Fáil supporting the motion – which called for the housing crisis to be declared an emergency and for rent controls to be introduced. Ministers who were not present included Ms Humphreys, Mr Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan. Ms Humphreys was again paired as she was at an EU meeting. Mr Flanagan was in the Seanad dealing with the Judicial Appointments Bill.

Last December, the Government lost another Dáil vote on an anti-eviction Bill which would ban landlords from evicting people into homelessness. The Government lost a Dáil vote on that Bill by 45 votes to 39, with Fianna Fáil abstaining. Ministers who were not present for the vote included Mr Donohoe and Katherine Zappone (both of whom were paired with other TDs).

The Dáil resumes next Tuesday for normal business, but the Government is on alert for a potential no-deal Brexit which would require a large amount of emergency legislation to be passed, effectively blocking the passage of other Bills. About 45 laws would need to be passed by the Oireachtas in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but Mr Varadkar has indicated that these could be condensed into four pieces of primary legislation.

The Cabinet will next week discuss Brexit planning for ports, airports and medical supplies.