By-elections in spring as Coalition survives vote
THE Government finally confirmed last night it would hold the three Dail by-elections next spring amidst claims that its "days were numbered".
It narrowly survived by 81 votes to 77 an opposition motion aimed at forcing it to hold the Donegal South West, Dublin South and Waterford by-elections immediately -- despite former government supporter Noel Grealish voting with the Opposition, in protest over the proposed health cuts in HSE West.
But Government chief whip John Curran told the Dail that the three by-elections would be held in the first quarter of 2011 -- meaning that a writ will have to be moved in the Dail by the end of March. The Government will then be obliged to hold the by-elections within 18-25 days, meaning they will take place in April at the latest.
One Fine Gael TD suggested last night that the Government would be able to limp on even if it lost all three by-elections.
However, in that scenario, its wafer-thin majority of four votes would be cut to just one, making a general election even more likely.
The Government was so afraid of losing last night's vote that it had been prepared to cancel Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's jobs mission to the US after Fine Gael had refused to grant a pairing arrangement.
But she went after Labour TD Ruairi Quinn agreed not to vote in her absence -- and he kept his word last night despite being present in his Dail seat.
In his address to the Dail, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticised the delay in holding the by-elections.
"It is simply unacceptable that by-elections can be deferred indefinitely -- just because the Government is afraid of losing them," he said.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said the Government was denying democracy by blocking the by-elections.