Bat­tered FG’s des­per­ate scram­ble to stay in power

:: Gov­ern­ment sources say vote on ‘knife-edge’

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Cor­mac McQuinn, Hugh O’Con­nell and Al­li­son Bray

THE cred­i­bil­ity of Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar’s mi­nor­ity Gov­ern­ment has taken a fur­ther bat­ter­ing as it scram­bled last night to en­sure it has enough Dáil votes to stay in power.

The Taoiseach is likely to need the sup­port of in­de­pen­dents like Noel Gre­al­ish, who re­cently made con­tro­ver­sial re­marks about im­mi­grants, and con­victed tax of­fender Michael Lowry to beat tonight’s mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy.

Mr Varad­kar’s Dáil strength is set to be re­duced fur­ther later this month by the de­par­ture of Dara Mur­phy to a new job at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which has sparked Op­po­si­tion crit­i­cism over the Cork TD’s dou­ble-job­bing.

The mi­nor­ity Gov­ern­ment’s pre­car­i­ous num­bers in­crease the chances that a health cri­sis in Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary, or an un­fore­seen con­tro­versy, could spell an early end to the Fine Gael-led mi­nor­ity Coali­tion.

It also comes af­ter Fine Gael failed to win any of last week’s by-elec­tions.

Even with Fianna Fáil sit­ting on its hands, num­bers in tonight’s Dáil vote are set to be tight.

Gov­ern­ment sources last night in­sisted they were con­fi­dent Mr Mur­phy – and by ex­ten­sion the Gov­ern­ment – would sur­vive the no-con­fi­dence mo­tion.

A Christ­mas elec­tion is set to be avoided and the em­bat­tled min­is­ter is ex­pected to sur­vive the Dáil vote of no con­fi­dence.

One of the party’s former TDs, Peter Fitz­patrick – an In­de­pen­dent who of­ten votes with the Gov­ern­ment – is re­port­edly set to back the no-con­fi­dence mo­tion.

Se­nior Gov­ern­ment sources ad­mit­ted the vote is on a knife-edge.

Mean­while, former In­de­pen­dent min­is­ter Denis Naugh­ten is still de­cid­ing whether or not to back Mr Mur­phy.

He will only make his de­ci­sion this evening af­ter con­sult­ing with sup­port­ers in his Roscom­mon-Gal­way con­stituency.

Mr Gre­al­ish and Mr Lowry did not re­spond to ef­forts to con­tact them in re­la­tion to how they plan to vote tonight.

At least two Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters are fly­ing back from Europe to vote for Mr Mur­phy, in­clud­ing Jus­tice Min­is­ter Char­lie Flana­gan, who has been in Brussels, and ju­nior agri­cul­ture min­is­ter An­drew Doyle, who has been in Rome in re­cent days.

“My only fear is an ac­ci­dent,” a Gov­ern­ment source said. “Some­one drops dead or takes an asthma at­tack.”

In­de­pen­dent Al­liance Min­is­ter John Hal­li­gan said he was back­ing Mr Mur­phy de­spite ad­mit­ting there was a hous­ing cri­sis.

He crit­i­cised the mo­tion tabled by the So­cial Democrats as “just f**king gim­mick stuff”.

“They got their an­swer in the polls – they didn’t do well,” he told the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent.

“Are they se­ri­ously think­ing that any­body would want an elec­tion at Christ­mas?” he asked.

Be­tween them, Fine Gael and In­de­pen­dents in gov­ern­ment can only com­mand 54 votes.

Fianna Fáil’s 45 TDs will ab­stain but Mr Varad­kar may still need three TDs from out­side the Gov­ern­ment tent to vote against the mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in Mr Mur­phy or ab­stain for the Gov­ern­ment to sur­vive.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Richard Bru­ton last night said he was “ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent” the mo­tion against Mr Mur­phy would fail.

How­ever, he said that if the Op­po­si­tion wants a Christ­mas elec­tion, it should “bring it on”.

Mr Bru­ton de­fended his min­is­te­rial col­league, in­sist­ing Mr Mur­phy was “do­ing a great job” and de­liv­er­ing a 25pc-ayear in­crease in sup­ply in both so­cial and pri­vate hous­ing.

“It was the toxic re­la­tion­ship be­tween prop­erty and bank­ing that de­stroyed this coun­try and he [Mr Mur­phy] has had to re­build a hous­ing model on the ashes of that dis­as­trous scheme that was there be­fore,” Mr Bru­ton said.

He ar­gued the mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in Mr Mur­phy was “po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism by one of the par­ties of the Dáil”.

A spokesman for the Hous­ing Min­is­ter said more than 50,000 homes have been built over the past three years and de­scribed the So­cial Democrats’ mo­tion as a “stunt”.

So­cial Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall last night re­jected this claim, say­ing her party tabled the mo­tion as hous­ing was the “num­ber one is­sue af­fect­ing the coun­try” and it “af­fects peo­ple in all walks of life”.

Ms Shortall listed the chal­lenge of af­ford­abil­ity for peo­ple on av­er­age in­comes, say­ing: “They’re re­ally strug­gling to buy or rent a home and there’s a whole gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who have been locked out of hous­ing.”

She also pointed to the num­ber in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion, which has been above 10,000 for sev­eral months.

Ms Shortall said this in­cluded “record num­bers of fam­i­lies” and that this was “stir­ring up prob­lems for many of those chil­dren for the fu­ture”.

She ac­cused Mr Mur­phy of fail­ing to tackle the prob­lem “in any kind of ef­fec­tive or mean­ing­ful way”, ad­ding: “For that rea­son, we think it’s time for him to go.”

Taken to task: Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy faces a close vote

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