Two Fine Gael senators face further sanctions after voting with opposition in Seanad debate

Fianna Fáil health spokesman missed special debate due to holiday booking

Two Fine Gael Senators may face further internal sanctions after voting against the Government at the conclusion of an emergency debate on organ retention in the Seanad yesterday.

The Government parties narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat when the vote was tied 22 to 22 after Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford sided with the Opposition.

It required the casting vote of cathaoirleach Paddy Burke to defeat the Fianna Fáil motion.

Ms Healy-Eames had already been expelled from the parliamentary party after voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill last month.


A senior party source said it was new territory but that further disciplinary measures would be likely to be taken against them, especially if they continued to vote with the Opposition. It was too early to say if that might result in expulsion from the party.

Budget votes
A Minister, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said that short-term action was unlikely but "local members will move against them if that persists into the budget votes".

The recall in the middle of the summer recess came after Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly availed of provisions from a 1972 Act that allowed such a recall to debate an EU directive if 20 members supported the move. The debate centred on an EU directive on organ donation and transplantation adopted into Irish law in August 2012 without debate in the Dáil and Seanad.

Mr Daly has claimed the directive as applied by statutory instrument was flawed and "disastrous" and should have been scrutinised by the Oireachtas rather than signed into law directly by Minister for Health James Reilly without any consultation.

However, Minister of State for Health Alex White told the Chamber that no case had been made why the legislation should be annulled. He specifically refuted Mr Daly's contention that it was flawed and disastrous.

While a number of Fianna Fáil Senators criticised Mr Reilly for not being present in the Chamber, the party itself found itself in an embarrassing situation when it became apparent that its health spokesman Marc MacSharry had departed that day on holidays to Portugal and was not present. Mr MacSharry was one of the 20 members who had called for the special recall of the Dáil and was the only Fianna Fáil Senator absent.

Last night he said his holiday arrangements had no flexibility. “It’s unfortunate, I fully supported the recall but as soon as I knew it was the 20th I informed the cathaoirleach that I could not be there.”

He said he did not accept it was an embarrassment or his presence may have changed the outcome.

During the debate some Senators on the Government side described Mr Daly’s move as a “stunt” and “opportunistic”, arguing that Fianna Fáil had a whole year since the directive was signed into law in August 2012 to bring up the issue.

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout said she supported Mr Daly's similar attempt to seek an emergency session last summer but said this recall reminded her of the way in which the Bobby Ewing character in Dallas had tried to lead people to believe that the previous year had not happened.

Organ donation
Speakers from both sides did say the recall did help highlight issues surrounding organ donation in Ireland and may have accelerated Government action in that regard.

Senator Jim Darcy of Fine Gael and others referred to the necessity for the Human Tissues Bill to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

In another reference to Dallas, Prof John Crown changed its famous phrase 'Who shot JR?" to "Where is JR?", a reference to the absent Minister for Health Mr Reilly.

Several senators also referred to the recall as useful in emphasising the important role of that the Seanad can play, especially in relation to scrutinising EU legislation.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times