The Irish Times view on the aftermath of the maternity hospital vote: a shrinking majority

The breach with Hourigan and Costello comes as tensions within the Green party over the ratification of the Canada-EU trade deal may be about to reignite

The withdrawal of the whip last week from Green Party TDs Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan is a blow to the party and to the Coalition. The pair voted against the Government on a Dáil private members’ motion tabled by Sinn Féin calling for the proposed new National Maternity Hospital at the St Vincent’s Hospital site to be in “full public ownership” rather than the 299-year lease negotiated between the NMH, St Vincent’s and the HSE. The text did not specify how this might be achieved, other than by re-engagement “at the highest level”.

The motion was passed by the Dáil with the votes of most Opposition TDs, while Government TDs abstained. Hourigan and Costello joined Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit and various Independents in supporting the motion – which was then ignored by the Government. But Costello and Hourigan's votes were not.

At a meeting of the Greens' parliamentary party afterwards, all present agreed to a six-month suspension for the two TDs. Green leader Eamon Ryan expressed his regret, but hoped they would continue to support the Government in other votes, and his colleagues expect they will return when they have served their punishment. By the standards of political defenestrations, it was all rather civilised.

The temporary exile for the NMH dissidents reduces the Coalition's majority to the bare minimum of one. The combined forces of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the reduced Green Party number 80 TDs; all the Opposition together come to 79. So on paper, it's tight. But the reality is that there are several Independent TDs who habitually support the Government in Dáil votes, and several Opposition Independents who would be loath to trigger a general election if a really tight vote presented itself. In other words, the Coalition's working majority is bigger than it looks.

But no Government wants to be losing its TDs. Moreover, the breach with Hourigan and Costello on the NMH comes as tensions within the party over the ratification of the Canada-EU trade deal, which has been stalled due to a legal action taken by Costello challenging its constitutionality, may be about to reignite. That legal process should reach a resolution in the Supreme Court this summer, potentially placing it back on the political agenda. The political difficulties on the issue for the Greens, which extend beyond the parliamentary party and into the wider organisation, will not remain in abeyance for much longer.

Neither Hourigan nor Costello supported the decision of the party to join the Coalition in the first place, and the prospect of difficult budgetary decisions in the autumn means that their return to the party fold cannot be taken for granted. And things are likely to get harder, not easier, for the Government – and for its TDs.