Govern­ment de­feat is lat­est episode in game of thrones

Bray People - - OPINION -

ANY­ONE un­sure of just how pre­car­i­ous a po­si­tion Enda Kenny’s part­ner­ship govern­ment is in need only look at the em­bar­rass­ing de­feat it suf­fered in last week’s vote on in­creas­ing pro­tec­tion for work­ers.

In a sur­prise de­feat, the govern­ment lost the vote on a counter mo­tion it had moved in an at­tempt to block a Labour party mo­tion on im­prov­ing work­ers rights, in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage and bring­ing in a liv­ing wage of €11.50 an hour for pub­lic sec­tor work­ers.

The Fine Gael counter mo­tion – which pledged to re­spond to the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Low Pay Com­mis­sion - was roundly de­feated with the govern­ment los­ing the vote by a con­sid­er­able mar­gin of 20 votes.

While the news of a govern­ment party los­ing a vote may not seem earth shat­ter­ing, it is highly un­usual and a clear sign of just how un­steady the cur­rent ar­range­ment is.

To put last week’s vote into con­text, the last time a govern­ment lost such a vote was in 1989 when Char­lie Haughey’s Fianna Fáil mi­nor­ity govern­ment – sup­ported by Alan Duke’s Fine Gael - suf­fered an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat on a mo­tion call­ing for ex­tra fund­ing for haemophil­i­acs who con­tracted AIDS from con­tam­i­nated blood prod­ucts.

Coin­ci­den­tally, the 1989 AIDS fund­ing mo­tion was moved by the new Labour leader Bren­dan Howlin, who has now had a key role in de­feat­ing two gov­ern­ments in Dáil votes.

That de­feat was used as an ex­cuse by Haughey – whom opin­ion polls had con­vinced that a ma­jor­ity FF govern­ment was pos­si­ble – to trig­ger the 1989 Gen­eral Election. It proved to be a dis­as­trous mis­cal­cu­la­tion with Fianna Fáil los­ing four seats and – after pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions like those we wit­nessed ear­lier this year – the party found it­self in coali­tion with the PDs.

Last week’s de­feat high­lights just how vul­ner­a­ble the govern­ment will be when it at­tempts to pass any con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion. Sig­nif­i­cantly, it was the first demon­stra­tion that Fianna Fáil will not ab­stain on all votes and make life eas­ier for the govern­ment

Fianna Fáil’s deal with Fine Gael saw the main op­po­si­tion party agree to a sup­port the mi­nor­ity govern­ment in what is known as ‘sup­ply and con­fi­dence’ ar­range­ment, whereby Fianna Fáil agreed to fa­cil­i­tate Fine Gael bud­gets and vote against or ab­stain in any mo­tions of no con­fi­dence ad­vanced against the govern­ment.

This agree­ment is en­tirely con­tin­gent on Fine Gael meet­ing pol­icy prom­ises it made to Fianna Fáil dur­ing their ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Votes like the one last week on work­ers’ rights – which don’t force the col­lapse of a govern­ment if lost – don’t form part of the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil deal.

How­ever, Enda Kenny will likely have ex­pected a lit­tle more sup­port from what are in reality his coali­tion part­ners in all but name. Par­tic­u­larly given his de­ci­sion to al­low Micheál Martin per­son­ally se­lect three of the 11 ‘ Taoiseach’s nom­i­nees’ for the Seanad.

While the work­ers rights mo­tion vote was a vic­tory for the Labour Party, the real win­ner in this game of thrones is Micheál Martin. One would imag­ine Martin was keen to send a clear sig­nal to Enda Kenny be­fore the sum­mer re­cess and ahead of bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions in the com­ing months.

Quite what the rest of the po­lit­i­cal year holds in store re­mains a mys­tery. How­ever, one thing is cer­tain – this au­tumn’s Dáil term is go­ing to be one of the most in­ter­est­ing since the 1980’s.

The govern­ment had bet­ter en­joy its va­ca­tion.

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