THE GOVERNMENT was left red-faced last night after it lost a vote in an Oireachtas committee because a raft of Fine Gael TDs went missing.
The excuses offered by culprit deputies were like a comedy of errors -- with one claiming not to hear the vote bells, and another two getting locked out of the committee room when they left to call for back-up.
The defeat is especially embarrassing for the Government because of the massive majority the Coalition enjoys.
The Oireachtas finance committee voted to haul Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan before them by the end of March against the wishes of Fine Gael and Labour, with Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Independents causing the upset.
And -- in a further bizarre twist -- outspoken Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews tabled the proposal to get Mr Honohan in, but then had to vote against it when his party imposed a whip.
Mr Honohan had already agreed to appear before the finance committee in April, but Mr Mathews insisted he come in by March 23, a week before the controversial €3.1bn Anglo-Irish Bank promissory notes are due to be paid.
But even with Mr Mathews trying to defeat his own proposal, Fine Gael and Labour lost by 11 votes to nine.
It means the committee will now write to Mr Honohan asking him to show up by Mr Mathew's deadline, although it was unclear last night if he will. It is understood to be the first time in years a Government has lost such a vote.
Wexford TD and committee vice chair Dr Liam Twomey said he got locked out when he left the committee room -- located in a basement of a Leinster House extension -- to ring his Fine Gael colleagues asking them to show up.
There is poor mobile coverage in the rooms, and Dr Twomey and Limerick FG TD Kieran O'Donnell had to leave to make the calls.
"Kieran O'Donnell and myself were outside trying to ring them and we got locked out," Dr Twomey said.
"We tried to get back inside but the door was closed. We thought we had more time; I think it's three minutes between the bells going off and the vote being taken."
Also among the missing Fine Gael TDs were Wicklow's Billy Timmins and Cork South-West's Jim Daly, as well as Wexford senator Michael D'Arcy. "A lot of the lads were up in the parliamentary party meeting and didn't hear the bells," another TD said.
But almost all pinned the blame on Mr Mathews for going on a solo run.
"Mathews opened himself up for a kick in the balls, and then he gave himself one," one TD said. "It's because of his bull-headedness and political naivete."
Dr Twomey added: "I told him he had to vote, obey the whip and vote against his proposal, but he wanted to abstain."
Mr Mathews, a TD for Dublin South, could not be reached for comment last night.