Government chief whip Paul Kehoe last night rejected claims that the removal of rebel Fine Gael TDs from Oireachtas committees was "anti-democratic".
Mr Kehoe said: "They were made aware of the consequences if they voted against the Government. We had many TDs who voted with the Government who want to get on specific committees. It would be unfair to keep those who voted against the Government in place and that's why we removed them."
This weekend, it also emerged that rebel Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins had tabled a motion calling for Dail speaking rights for TDs who had lost the party whip on the abortion issue – a move that has increased speculation that the five Fine Gael dissidents might be planning to set up a new political party.
Mr Timmins's initiative coincides with questions by rebel Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford in relation to the legality of political parties retaining up to €500,000 annually for TDs and senators no longer in a parliamentary party.
Mr Bradford, husband of former Minister of State Lucinda Creighton, has said that the money should be returned to the Exchequer.
TDs who have lost the party whip do not have the right to speak, or to question the Taoiseach or government ministers in the Dail.
Mr Timmins last Wednesday requested that the rules be changed to allow those who had previously been members of a party to seek "formal recognition as a group".
If the change is granted, the six expelled TDs will be one short of the numbers required to form a new technical group, but it is believed that other independents such as Shane Ross or Stephen Donnelly would be amenable to joining such a group.
Mr Timmins said he had made the move as "an independent initiative'' but added that he believed "others are also of the view that they don't want their voices cut off''.
Opinion in Leinster House is divided over whether the TDs are planning to establish a new party. The rebels have up to now emphatically denied they had any plans to form such a party. However, senior Fine Gael sources have claimed "there will be a new political party. The level of animosity on both sides is staggering".
The four FG TDs who sat on committees – Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh, Terence Flanagan and Mr Timmins – were removed from their various positions having voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, as was previously ousted FG Roscommon TD Denis Naughten, who was expelled from the Health Committee last week.
On Mr Naughten's expulsion, Mr Kehoe said: "He has voted against the Government on several occasions and that's why he was removed. No other reason."