Two Green Party TDs who voted in support of an Opposition motion on the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) have been suspended from the parliamentary party for six months.
The Coalition's numbers in the Dáil have been stripped back to a bare majority of 80 as a result of Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello backing the Sinn Féin motion, a decision which resulted in them being stripped of the party whip.
While the reduced 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.
The motion, which the Government abstained on, called for the new NMH to be built on land owned by the State. The vote needed the backing of 10 TDs to go ahead and this was ensured after Rural Independent TDs and the People Before Profit-Solidarity group provided their support.
In a statement following the vote, the Green Party said it has suspended Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello from the parliamentary party for six months.
“The decision was made after they failed to vote with the government on a private members motion. There was consensus on the decision. The parliamentary party regrets having to take this step but believes our effectiveness in government relies on unity in every vote. Both deputies will have an opportunity to apply for readmission at the end of this six month period.”
The Government abstained in the Dáil vote, which was passed by 56 votes to 10 on Wednesday night. There were 69 abstentions.
Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello had earlier indicated that they would support the non-binding motion, which came after the Cabinet on Tuesday approved the long mooted relocation of the NMH from Holles Street in Dublin 2 to a site on the St Vincent’s Hospital campus in Dublin 4.
The Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) to another entity, St Vincent’s Holdings, which will lease the land on which it is proposed to building the new NMH for 299 years.
However, there are fears in some quarters that potential lingering religious influence could mean abortions or fertility treatment would not be allowed to take place at the new hospital. Questions have also been raised about why the land is not being sold or gifted to the State.
Such concerns have been dismissed by the Government and the hospital’s supporters in the medical community.
In a statment following the vote, Mr Costello said he knew his decision was “frustrating” for his Government partners “but the issue of the National Maternity Hospital has been incredibly frustrating, confusing and challenging for many and this motion reflected my own concerns and the concerns of many”.
He added: “I could not in good conscience vote against it. I know breaking the whip is a serious issue and as I have said earlier I will accept the sanctions imposed from my action. I understand my Green Party colleagues are meeting tonight and will decide on the appropriate sanction for my vote.”