A FRESH row has broken out between Fine Gael and Labour after the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad.
The Coalition was left red-faced after an Opposition bill banning upward-only rent reviews was carried by a single vote.
The bill, which was tabled by Independent senator Feargal Quinn, proposes to make upward-only reviews illegal.
The original vote was tied at 22-22, leaving Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke to cast the deciding vote and defeat the bill. Several of the Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad voted in favour of Mr Quinn's bill.
Opposition members demanded a second, 'walk through vote' – during which Reform Alliance senator Paul Bradford arrived in the chamber to give the opposition the crucial majority.
The bill will now be sent forward to the Dail for debate and may force government TDs to vote against a key plank of their general election manifesto.
Mr Quinn said he was "thrilled" with the outcome, adding that a ban on upward rent reviews would prove to be a relief for businesses.
However, the defeat took the Government by surprise and has led to a fresh row between the coalition partners.
A different stage of the bill was defeated in October after a number of Labour senators also missed the vote.
Fine Gael was last night pointing the finger firmly at Labour for failing to "keep their troops in line".
"Do the numbers, they were missing four, we were missing one – it's not rocket science why we lost the vote," said a senior Fine Gael source.
Ms Higgins claimed she missed the vote "in error", adding that she was in another part of Leinster House at the time. Mr Kelly and Mr Whelan both said they were unofficially paired and therefore excused from the vote.
Labour sources last night admitted there was uncertainly as to how four of its senators failed to turn up.
However, the party's Chief Whip in the Seanad, Aideen Hayden, told the Irish Independent that the loss for the Government is a "storm in the tea cup".
"If one of my team were missing for a vote on government legislation, I'd be having a very different conversation with you right now," Ms Hayden said.
"The fact of the matter is this victory is meaningless. It is a symbolic victory. I don't accept this is an embarrassment for the Government because nothing will come of it," she added.
The Irish Independent understands that while the walk-through vote was taking place, the Labour leader in the Seanad was frantically trying to contact the missing senators in a bid to get them to vote.
It's also understood that the Office of Chief Whip Paul Coghlan was not given formal notification of the senators' absences.
The bill will now go to the Dail for consideration.
A number of ministers have said that a ban on upward-only rent reviews is unconstitutional.
The proposal formed part of the Fine Gael and Labour manifestos during the 2011 General election, before being dropped.
Neither senator Landy nor Clune returned calls last night.