What is happening in the Dáil today - and could it lead to an election?

Government expected to win votes today but faces continuing pressure on housing

The Opposition will seek to heap further pressure on the Government on Wednesday, with two votes that will see the Coalition once more scrambling for the support of Independent TDs to bolster its flimsy Dáil majority.

First thing up, shortly after 9am, the Dáil will debate a motion of no confidence in the Government tabled by the Labour Party. Actually, the Dáil will debate a Government amendment to the Labour motion which will – naturally enough – express continuing confidence in the Government. But the substance, and the dividing lines between Government and Opposition, will remain the same: the ongoing housing crisis and the Government’s record in getting to grips with it.

A motion of no confidence takes precedence over other Dáil business, and the vote – by roll call and not by the Chamber’s electronic voting system – will be taken immediately on the conclusion of the debate, about 11.45am.

Despite entreaties from Opposition Deputies on Tuesday, to be repeated with added volume on Wednesday morning (“I’m asking every TD, don’t vote to evict your own constituents into homelessness,” said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald), there is no expectation in Leinster House that the motion would succeed. If it did the Dáil would be dissolved later on Wednesday, and a general election would take place, probably in late April. That would, to put it mildly, cause panic among many TDs and parties.


There is no doubt, however, that the Government – collectively and individually for many of its TDs, and also for its habitual Independent fellow-travellers – is finding the lifting of the eviction ban extremely difficult. Privately the view of many is yes, we had to do this, but did we really have to do it now? They are getting flayed in the Dáil, in the media, and – in some cases – in their constituencies.

There will be close eye kept on the margin of (assumed) victory in the morning vote. The Coalition is expected to keep most of its Independent supporters, and its majority is not seriously under threat; but that Independent support does not come for free, and a government that relies on Independent TDs for its survival is not one that can be very confident about its future.

The second vote will be on Sinn Féin’s more targeted assault – the party tabled legislation, identical to the Government’s original legislation apart from the dates, which would extend the eviction ban until next January. This will force Independent TDs to actually vote against legislation which would extend the ban, rather than voting on an amended motion, as they did last week. You may be sure Sinn Féin will remind them on their votes on this rather a lot.

Apart from confidence motions the Dáil usually takes weekly votes in a bloc on Wednesday evenings. It will be interesting to see if the Government commands the same majority in this vote as it does in the confidence vote. The debate – held on Tuesday night – followed predictable patterns, a lonely Darragh O’Brien facing a mixture of pleading and condemnation from the Opposition. The most arresting part was Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan’s reading into the Dáil record the testimonies from the uplift.ie website of people being evicted.

Of course, all this is – as Government Ministers and the Taoiseach have repeatedly complained – political theatre. The Opposition won’t win the votes and even if it did it wouldn’t stop the ban lapsing on Saturday.

But just because it’s political theatre doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate: theatre is part of politics. The Dáil is the forum through which – whatever its faults – our parliamentary democracy works. The Government can hardly complain about that. And theatre, remember, can convey a powerful message. It is not one that the Coalition will relish.