Coalition comfortably survives after heated debate

Government under pressure on housing but majority remains intact

The Coalition comfortably survived a vote of confidence in the Dáil on Wednesday, again winning the support of several Independent TDs after an intense and sometimes bitter debate on the housing issue.

Six Independent TDs, as well as former Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Greens TDs who have resigned or lost the whip, voted with the Government to give a 19-vote majority when the division was called shortly before noon. The Government won the vote – on a Government amendment expressing confidence to a Labour Party motion expressing no-confidence – by 86 votes to 67, with no abstentions.

Independent TDs Cathal Berry, Seán Canney, Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten and Matt Shanahan voted with the Government, as did Marc MacSharry, former Fianna Fáil TD. Green TD Neasa Hourigan, who was suspended from the parliamentary party for 15 months after voting against the Coalition last week, voted with the Government.

The debate and the vote illustrated both the sharp, sometimes personal, edge to Dáil exchanges on the ever-present issue of housing, but also the enduring security of the Coalition’s working Dáil majority. Although on paper the combined number of whipped Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green TDs give the Coalition only a one-vote majority in the Dáil, in fact its effective working majority is nearer to 20 votes.


The was confirmed by a further vote on Wednesday night on a Sinn Féin Bill to extend the eviction ban, which was defeated by 81 votes to 67.

The debate began soon after 9am, and soon saw accusations and invective hurled across the chamber, prompting frequent interventions from the chair.

Government speakers especially targeted the Labour Party, which had put down the motion. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar derided the move as “political theatre, performative anger and performance art”, and pointed out that if the motion succeeded there would be an election and the lifting of the eviction ban would proceed on Saturday.

“Knowing this, it is profoundly disingenuous for anyone to claim that the Labour Party’s motion is about renters’ rights or about people who are facing homelessness,” Mr Varadkar said.

Government speakers poured scorn on the promise last weekend by Labour leader Ivana Bacik that Labour would build a million houses in a decade. But the party’s finance spokesman, Ged Nash, hit back, declaring: “The antics of the Government, with its grubby little side deals with the cheap dates in the so-called Independent ranks, will live in infamy. Transparency has been sacrificed on the altar of those grubby little side hustles. The sight of the Government’s first substitutes limbering up, hoping to catch the eye of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, has been nothing short of pathetic.”

In her contribution Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald castigated the Government’s record – and the record of its Fine Gael-led predecessors – saying that the “calamitous results” of Fine Gael policy would “define life in Ireland for a generation”.

To loud interruptions from the Government benches, Ms McDonald declared: “A Sinn Féin government would roll up our sleeves and we would get the job done.”

As the atmosphere in the Dáil chamber soured amid heckling from both sides, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “It is not the IRA army council in here. Other people can speak.”

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said extending the eviction ban would be like “making sweets free” for children. “It’s fine for a little while but ultimately detrimental to the greater need.”

Opposition TDs kept the focus on the plight of people who could face eviction as a result of the ending of the ban. Addressing Green Junior Minister Joe O’Brien, Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said: “The Minister of State and I live in the same town. We have a neighbour who is a widow. She has four children. She will be evicted on May 15th. I ask Deputy Joe O’Brien where she will go. He used to work in homelessness services. He knows how bad it is.”

TDs from People before Profit advised people who are served with notices to quit to stay in their homes and refuse to leave. Predicting that “a landlords’ Dáil will vote confidence in a landlords’ Government”, Dublin South West TD Paul Murphy advised: “Do not leave your home if you have nowhere to go. Do not make yourself homeless. . .Wait until your notice period is almost up and then appeal to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. If it is invalid the landlord will have to reissue the eviction notice, giving you the full notice period again.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times