TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has been dealt a fresh blow this afternoon as Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney voted against controversial social welfare cuts - and joined the Independent benches in the Dail.
Mr Keaveney is the fifth TD to leave the Labour parliamentary party since Mr Gilmore led them into coalition with Fine Gael after last year's general election.
However, Mr Keaveney is vowing to remain on as party chairman, having been elected by rank-and-file Labour members at party conference earlier this year. He will remain a member of the wider Labour party and is likely to become an even bigger thorn in the leadership's side.
He promised "to fight tooth and nail" to hold onto his chairmanship.
Mr Keaveney said he made his surprise decision with a "very heavy heart".
"While I support the Government's fiscal strategy I find it very difficult personally to support measures that attack vulnerable people in society," he told 'Newstalk'. "I don't think this Government are capturing the heart of the nation."
He also blamed Fine Gael for not accepting a Labour Budget demand for a 3pc hike in the Universal Social Charge (USC) for people earning over €100,000, and now joins Roisin Shortall, Willie Penrose, Patrick Nulty and Tommy Broughan, who have already lost the Labour whip.
In a thinly veiled swipe at Mr Gilmore, Mr Keaveney said people "need to reflect" on damage done to Labour by what he called "unnecessary rhetoric" before the last general election.
Mr Nulty welcomed the chairman's decision to oppose the social welfare bill.
"This is an unfair Budget, which breaks Labour promises," Mr Nulty said.
"The measures contained in the bill, such as the cut to the respite care grant and the cut in child benefit, are not acceptable to those who voted Labour."
Labour has come under constant attack since Budget 2013 was unveiled last week with opposition TDs accusing the party of selling out on its policies to prop up its senior partner Fine Gael.
Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and members of the United Left Alliance launched a three-pronged assault on the party, accusing it of turning its back on pre-election promises, which included a vow to leave child benefit payments untouched.