The six month suspensions from the Green Party’s Oireachtas ranks handed to TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello has left the Government with the slimmest of majorities in the Dáil.
It leaves the Coalition potentially reliant on the support of a handful of Independent TDs to see key votes through in the House over the next six months.
Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello were suspended from the parliamentary party on Wednesday night after they defied the Government to vote in favour of a Sinn Féin motion regarding the National Maternity Hospital.
The three-party administration had already lost two TDs since it was formed in June 2020. Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy announced he was leaving politics in April of last year, with his seat in Dublin Bay South taken by the now Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.
Marc MacSharry quit the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party ahead of a confidence motion in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney last September over the botched appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone to a UN special envoy role.
The Green Party suspensions mean that the Government now has 80 TDs to the Opposition’s 79, leaving it with a bare majority.
Coalition sources said on Thursday that they were not anxious about the arithmetic, and pointed out that support from a number of Independent TDs, who often row in behind the Government, could be vital in future votes.
The referenced included former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, Galway West deputy Noel Grealish, Kildare South TD Cathal Berry and, on occasion, former minister of State Seán Canney.
Mr Lowry has more often than not provided the Coalition with his support. He said on Thursday: “I would be in the same position since the start, in that I will offer my support on an issue by issue basis”.
The Tipperary TD said he found it “difficult to understand why the Government didn’t confront the issue” and reject and vote against the motion which tipped the Green TDs overboard.
The Coalition agreed not to oppose the Sinn Féin motion which called for the new maternity hospital to be built on land fully owned by the State. The decision not to oppose the motion meant a vote was not needed, which took the pressure off the Government given the public unease expressed by Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello about the hospital’s more to the St Vincent’s campus in Dublin 4.
However, 10 independent TDs then announced they would call a vote on the motion regardless, which led the two Green TDs to vote for the motion and face party sanction.
Mr Lowry said he found the Government’s tactical choices “extraordinary”.
“What is the point in making a Cabinet decision, then giving the nod on motions that are meaningless,” he said. “But my position is that I am open to supporting them issue by issue. My record has shown that that I am more likely than not to support them.”
Galway East TD Mr Canney said he would look at every upcoming vote on its own merit and “decide what way I will vote when it comes up” .
“It depends on what the issue is. I won’t be giving any blanket guarantees to anyone. It will be a case by case situation.
“In terms of the loss of two people and the removal of the whip in the Greens, the Government will have to manage that and how they deal with it. Maybe they will support the Government anyway, I don’t know. But my attitude hasn’t changed. I’ll vote on merit and in favour of what is of the most benefit to my constituents.”