Thursday 5 December 2019

Battered Fine Gael's desperate scramble to stay in power as Housing Minister faces no-confidence vote

Eoghan Murphy. Picture: Collins
Eoghan Murphy. Picture: Collins

Cormac McQuinn, Hugh O’Connell and Allison Bray

The credibility of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s minority Government has taken a further battering as it scrambled last night to ensure it has enough Dáil votes to stay in power.

The Taoiseach is likely to need the support of independents like Noel Grealish, who recently made controversial remarks about immigrants, and convicted tax offender Michael Lowry to beat tonight’s motion of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

Mr Varadkar’s Dáil strength is set to be reduced further later this month by the departure of Dara Murphy to a new job at the European Commission, which has sparked Opposition criticism over the Cork TD’s double-jobbing.

The minority Government’s precarious numbers increase the chances that a health crisis in January or February, or an unforeseen controversy, could spell an early end to the Fine Gael-led minority Coalition.

It also comes after Fine Gael failed to win any of last week’s by-elections.

Even with Fianna Fáil sitting on its hands, numbers in tonight’s Dáil vote are set to be tight.

Government sources last night insisted they were confident Mr Murphy – and by extension the Government – would survive the no-confidence motion.

A Christmas election is set to be avoided and the embattled minister is expected to survive the Dáil vote of no confidence.

One of the party’s former TDs, Peter Fitzpatrick – an Independent who often votes with the Government – is reportedly set to back the no-confidence motion.

Senior Government sources admitted the vote is on a knife-edge.

Meanwhile, former Independent minister Denis Naughten is still deciding whether or not to back Mr Murphy.

He will only make his decision this evening after consulting with supporters in his Roscommon-Galway constituency.

Mr Grealish and Mr Lowry did not respond to efforts to contact them in relation to how they plan to vote tonight.

At least two Government ministers are flying back from Europe to vote for Mr Murphy, including Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who has been in Brussels, and junior agriculture minister Andrew Doyle, who has been in Rome in recent days.

"My only fear is an accident," a Government source said. "Someone drops dead or takes an asthma attack."

Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan said he was backing Mr Murphy despite admitting there was a housing crisis.

He criticised the motion tabled by the Social Democrats as "just f**king gimmick stuff".

"They got their answer in the polls - they didn't do well," he told the Irish Independent.

"Are they seriously thinking that anybody would want an election at Christmas?" he asked.

Between them, Fine Gael and Independents in government can only command 54 votes.

Fianna Fáil's 45 TDs will abstain but Mr Varadkar may still need three TDs from outside the Government tent to vote against the motion of no confidence in Mr Murphy or abstain for the Government to survive.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton last night said he was "absolutely confident" the motion against Mr Murphy would fail.

However, he said that if the Opposition wants a Christmas election, it should "bring it on".

Mr Bruton defended his ministerial colleague, insisting Mr Murphy was "doing a great job" and delivering a 25pc-a-year increase in supply in both social and private housing.

"It was the toxic relationship between property and banking that destroyed this country and he [Mr Murphy] has had to rebuild a housing model on the ashes of that disastrous scheme that was there before," Mr Bruton said.

He argued the motion of no confidence in Mr Murphy was "political opportunism by one of the parties of the Dáil".

A spokesman for the Housing Minister said more than 50,000 homes have been built over the past three years and described the Social Democrats' motion as a "stunt".

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall last night rejected this claim, saying her party tabled the motion as housing was the "number one issue affecting the country" and it "affects people in all walks of life".

Ms Shortall listed the challenge of affordability for people on average incomes, saying: "They're really struggling to buy or rent a home and there's a whole generation of young people who have been locked out of housing."

She also pointed to the number in emergency accommodation, which has been above 10,000 for several months.

Ms Shortall said this included "record numbers of families" and that this was "stirring up problems for many of those children for the future".

She accused Mr Murphy of failing to tackle the problem "in any kind of effective or meaningful way", adding: "For that reason, we think it's time for him to go."

Continued from Page 1

Irish Independent

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