Senator Mark Daly expelled from Fianna Fáil parliamentary party for defying whip on water Bill

Controversial Bill expected to complete its passage tomorrow paving the way for lower water charges

Senator Mark Daly: told by his party to support the Government motion. Photograph by Cyril Byrne

Senator Mark Daly: told by his party to support the Government motion. Photograph by Cyril Byrne

 

Kerry Senator Mark Daly has been expelled from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party after defying the party whip in a vote on the Water Services Bill early on Saturday morning.

Fianna Fáil had decided it would back a procedural motion by the Government to adjourn the debate on the controversial bill at 3am on Saturday and resume consideration at Noon tomorrow.

But when the vote was called, Mr Daly was one of seven Senators who voted against the suspension, arguing that the debate should continue on the Committee stage of the Bill throughout the night.

The Bill will give a statutory basis to the lower water charging system announced by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly last month. It has already been the subject of prolonged debate in the Dáil and Seanad, where the Bill was debated for 15 hours on Friday alone before the adjournment. Whips on the Government side have said that opposition Senators have been filibustering in their efforts to disrupt the passage of the Bill.

Mr Daly, one of 14 Fianna Fáil members of the Upper House, had been instructed by the party leadership to support the Government motion. A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman confirmed he he lost the whip automatically for voting against the party.

“He can obviously reapply to be readmitted. The matter will be discussed at the next Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting in January,” she said.

Mr Daly said yesterday that there had not been consistency in the party’s approach to expulsion, citing an earlier case where no action had been taken against a senator who had voted against the whip. He also said that his vote was on a procedural issue and not on legislation, and questioned whether or not a three-line whip (where support for the party line is compulsory) was applied.

“I will be challenging it,” he said. “I was following the party’s direction in that he membership of Fianna Fáil would expect us to fight tooth and nail and not to be closing down the debate on this flawed legislation,” said the Senator whose base is in Kenmare, Co Kerry.

Following the crucial 32 to 26 vote in favour of the Bill during the second stage, the legislation is expected to complete its passage through the Oireachtas at about 6pm tomorrow, when the final vote on the report stage is taken. That will pave the way for the new annual charges of €260 for a family with two adults or more, minus a €100 water conservation payment upon registration with the Department of Social Protection.

Ahead of the vote, two Opposition Senators have separately said they intend to launch a campaign to petition President Michael D Higgins to set the legislation aside.

Reform Alliance Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames and Independent Senator Gerald Craughwell began canvassing TDs and Senators over the weekend. Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane also said his party will be seeking to petition the President not to sign Bill into law.

In a letter to fellow Oireachtas members Independent Galway Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has asked for their support to petition the President for a referendum on the vexed issue of water ownership.

Under Article 27 of the Constitution, legislation can be referred to the President if one-half (30) of members the Seanad, and one-third (56) of the members of the Dáil sign a petition to that effect.

It must be done within four days of the legislation being signed.

The two Senators say they wish to ensure water is enshrined as a public resource which will never be privatised.

However, the power to petition was only designed for situations where the two Houses of the Oireachtas are in dispute, which will not be the case in this instance. Article 27 has never been invoked.

Ms Healy-Eames said yesterday: “I am fully aware of the impact of the all powerful party whip on Members on the Government side. There may be an opportunity here for members to act outside the Whip, without retribution.