Embattled Health Minister Mary Harney survived a motion of no confidence last night despite a revolt by Fianna Fail TD Ned O'Keeffe.
Mr O'Keeffe dramatically resigned from the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party after calling on Ms Harney to resign in recent days.
Despite threats of voting against Ms Harney, Independent Finian McGrath rowed in behind the PD leader.
The Government defeated the motion by 84 votes to 73, but Mr O'Keeffe abstained on a second vote so this majority dropped to 83 versus 73.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Tanaiste Brian Cowen and Environment Minister John Gormley all launched staunch defences of their Cabinet colleague.
Ms Harney came in for stinging criticism from Fine Gael and Labour, including party leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.
Mr O'Keeffe said he was resigning because the issue of cancer care was so important and because the health service is in a shambles.
"Never before have I felt as strongly as I do about something so fundamental," he said.
Although Mr O'Keeffe was not allowed to make a speech in the debate, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore read out a section of the TD's pre-prepared script: "World-class centres of excellence, best practice, and the messiahs from Vancouver all sound great, but they are no substitute for lack of capacity in existing hospitals, which is the biggest contributor to the present crises."
Mr O'Keeffe will now become an Independent TD after leaving the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party, but the Cork East TD remains a member of the party.
The former junior minister gave a one-sentence letter to the Government Chief Whip Tom Kitt shortly before the debate began.
"I resign the whip from the parliamentary party," the letter said.Mr Kitt said he regretted that Mr O'Keeffe felt it necessary to resign the party whip.
"He has been a longstanding member of Fianna Fail, a great servant to his constituency of East Cork and hopefully he will be back in the Fianna Fail parliamentary party in the future," he said. His resignation from the parliamentary party followed a heated discussion with Mr Kitt earlier in the day. Mr Kitt told Mr O'Keeffe what consequences would flow from any Fianna Fail TD voting against the Government.
Mr Kitt's spokesperson said there was no intimidation involved and Mr O'Keeffe knew the rules.
But Mr O'Keeffe said there was a lot of "deep-rooted unhappiness" in Fianna Fail.
"But whip us into line and we will suppress our opinions -- that's the way forward, is it?" he said.
Mr O'Keeffe voted with the Government on its motion counteracting the opposition motion of no confidence on the grounds that it did not contain a reference to confidence in Ms Harney.
But he then abstained on the amended motion of no confidence in Ms Harney -- an action which would have resulted in him losing the party whip in any event.
Rallying behind Ms Harney, Mr Ahern said the Health Minister was not to blame for the crisis in cancer care.
"I would simply point to her record in health, a ministerial portfolio which, because of its unique characteristics, contains huge potential for political disaster across every western country," he said.
Tanaiste Brian Cowen said Ms Harney wanted to bring about reform and TDs had to "represent citizens, not resistors of change".
Environment Minister John Gormley said when he was in opposition he was sceptical of the HSE and he now believes some of those concerns were justified. The HSE needs to be turned upside down and needs root and branch reform, he said.
Ms Harney is the minister to do that, he added.
Mr Kenny said the Government's record on the health service was a "wasted decade from a bunch of wasters".
"From Minister Cowen ,who couldn't wait to get out of the brief, to Minister Martin, who didn't read the brief, to Minister Harney, who gave the brief away to the HSE, they have all failed," he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Harney must now turn to the precarious position of her party. She is losing her top adviser at Christmas as he heads back to his old job.