Government narrowly avoids Dáil vote defeat


THE GOVERNMENT narrowly avoided defeat in the first vote of the new Dáil session yesterday because of the large number of Fianna Fáil TDs who were stranded abroad.

The volcanic ash crisis resulted in eight TDs from the party being unable to return in time for the resumption of the Dáil yesterday.

One of the Independent TDs who supports the Government, Michael Lowry, was also abroad. Another Fianna Fáil TD, Niall Blaney, was paired with a Fine Gael deputy.

Five Fine Gael TDs who travelled abroad during the Easter break were also stranded, as was the Labour Leas Cheann Comhairle Brendan Howlin.

The Government won the first vote by 73 votes to 71 when the Opposition challenged the Order of Business, which included the allocation of time for the second stage debate on the Central Bank Reform Bill.

The margin of two votes would have been one had Independent TD Joe Behan not abstained.

Fine Gael said this week it was not willing to offer pairs, an undertaking that one of its TDs would not vote, to Fianna Fáil TDs who were unavoidably absent. In the event, it was willing to offer a single pair for the vote on the Order of Business.

By mid-morning yesterday, the Government Chief Whip’s office said the vote would be tight but that it was confident that it would have a slim majority. With full attendance, the Government could rely on 84 votes compared to 78 for the combined Opposition, a majority of six. That margin was whittled down to two yesterday due to the greater number of stranded Government-side TDs.

Labour, Sinn Féin and two Independent TDs, Finian McGrath and Maureen O’Sullivan, voted against the Government.

Jackie Healy-Rae supported the Coalition. Like Mr Lowry, he has an ongoing arrangement to support Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Behan said yesterday that he not been approached by any party in advance of him abstaining in the vote. On balance he agreed with the Central Bank Bill and adopted an approach of voting on each issue on its merits. It was for that reason he had abstained.

For similar reasons, he had supported the Government in a vote on its multibillion-euro solution to the banking crisis before Easter. He emphasised the absence of any contact with any of the larger parties and also said that he had no deal with any party.

Mr Behan added that he had no interest in tactics that profited from situations that could not be deliberate.

“Fine Gael said it would use all tactics to bring the Government down,” Mr Behan said. “This tactic took advantage of the unavoidable absence of TDs. It does politics no good at all.”

The chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture Johnny Brady is stranded in Spain and will be unable to attend this morning’s meeting of the committee, where Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly will attend to discuss her report on the Lost at Sea scheme.

In her report, the Ombudsman recommended that a Donegal family should be awarded compensation following its exclusion from a scheme for families who had lost trawlers at sea. The Government has rejected the report.

The minister who approved the scheme almost a decade ago was Frank Fahey. The Galway West TD, who was expected to defend his decision robustly, will also be absent tomorrow as he is stranded in China.

Stranded Abroad: The Missing TDs

Fianna Fáil TDs absent:

Conor Lenihan, Dublin South West: Dubai The Minister of State for Trade is on a private break in Dubai.

Aine Brady, Kildare North: Spain The Minister of State for Older People and her husband were in southern Spain. She has travelled by road to France, to catch a ferry to Britain. She is expected in Ireland tonight.

Michael Finneran, Roscommon South-Leitrim: Spain The Minister of State for Housing has also been unable to return from holiday in Spain.

Johnny Brady, Meath West: Lanzarote Mr Brady and his wife took a flight from Lanzarote to Madrid in the weekend and are awaiting a flight to Ireland.

Eamon Scanlon, Sligo-North Leitrim: Spain Mr Scanlon was also on holiday in Spain.

John O’Donoghue, Kerry South: unknown

Sean Ardagh, Dublin South Central: Malta Mr Ardagh and Cork Senator Denis O’Donovan are on the Constitution Committee and were on a trip to Malta. They flew to Madrid and travelled via France and Britain. Expected home last night.

Fine Gael TDs abroad:

Bernard Allen, Cork North Central, Spain

Olivia Mitchell, Dublin South, Spain

Damien English, Meath West, United States

Jim O’Keeffe, Cork South West, Thailand

James Reilly, Dublin North, Haiti Dr Reilly flew to New York and then Boston. He is awaiting a flight to Ireland.

Labour Party TD abroad

Brendan Howlin, Wexford: Amsterdam He travelled to Brussels and is expected to make his way back home by ferry.

IndependentTD abroad Michael Lowry, Tipperary North, unknown.