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Thursday 19 April 2018

'Casual and stumbling' - Angry scenes in the Dáil round off week of intense pressure for Enda Kenny, as Government win confidence motion

  • Dáil reaffirms confidence in the Government
  • Parliamentary party avoids direct criticism of Kenny but signs 'things are moving'
  • Taoiseach offers full apology to Maurice McCabe
  • Ministers warn Fine Gael to be election-ready
  • Fianna Fáil critical of Government's handling of controversy but will be abstaining

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing pressure from his party
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing pressure from his party
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin
Labour leader Brendan Howlin Photo: Tom Burke
Gerry Adams TD Picture: Collins

Cormac McQuinn, Kevin Doyle and Niall O’Connor

In the Dáil tonight the Government won a confidence motion by 57 votes to 52, with 44 abstaining.

The debate on confidence saw angry scenes in the Dáil, following a week of controversy and political upheaval.

Opposition parties were critical of the Government's handling of the garda whistleblower controversy, describing it in turn as "fumbling", "stumbling" and "casual".

It came after a "calm" parliamentary party meeting saw two Fine Gael ministers warn the party to be election ready, while the Taoiseach avoided any direct criticism.

In the chamber, after offering a full apology to whistleblower Maurice McCabe and his family Mr Kenny went on to say that the country needed "stability" in a time of international uncertainty.

He noted Brexit negotiations will start in a few weeks and insisted "Ireland is very well prepared for this process but we do need to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as Article 50 is triggered."

He argued that the government's plan to grow the economy and create jobs "is working" and that they continue to invest in the health service.

"Bringing housing supply back to sustainable levels, and stabilising the rental sector has been a slow process but we have a clear plan and that plan will overcome this challenge," he added.

Mr Kenny said what the country needs is the delivery of the programme for government "not political stunts by Sinn Féin" and called on TDs to support the government's motion of confidence.

Fianna Fáil, who see themselves as 'facilitating' the current Government, abstained from the vote on Wednesday.

Micheál Martin argued that the government has handled the whistleblower issue "in a casual and incompetent manner".

He also said that during the last government there was "evidence of efforts to bury this scandal".

Mr Martin noted that Mr Kenny has confirmed that he is willing to support a Tribunal of the type Sgt. McCabe is calling for.

But he said the question before the  is now to get justice for Mr McCabe and other whistleblowers, not "should we collapse the government and Dáil in order to have a general election in the next few weeks".

He accused Sinn Féin of being motivated by "party politics" in tabling the motion of no confidence.

Mr Martin argued that it's "not possible to accept that Sinn Fein tabled its motion of no confidence out of any sincere outrage at how information was handled."

He said senior Sinn Féin members attacked him for raising "allegations about abuse within the Provisionals’ movement."

He added "And we are still waiting for a single person to respond to their claim to call for witnesses to come forward to the Gardaí."

Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil's position remains that every deputy in the Dáil has a duty to do everything possible to make it work.

He said his party tried to form an alternative government but eventually agreed to the confidence and supply arrangement.

"We have played this agreement absolutely straight. We have been a constructive opposition in proposing alternatives and, on some occasions, having to allow through policies we disagree with," Mr Martin said.

Strain

He said the events of the week have put the agreement "under serious strain".

"We do want a change of government, but we also believe that this Dáil has not yet fulfilled its obligations to the people who we are elected to serve."

He said Fianna Fáil's priority is to address the current scandal and "help our country overcome the many challenges it faces.

"There is no evidence that an immediate election would do this. We will abide by our agreement," he added.

But he warned: "There is a point after which all good faith efforts to make this Dáil work will have failed and there will be no alternative but to have an election."

He said that point is closer now than it was last week.

Fine Gael deputies also launched blistering attacks on the motion brought forward by Sinn Féin. Leading the charge was Public Expenditure minister Paschal Donohoe who described the move as "nakedly political".

Mr Donohoe said the motion of no-confidence – which Sinn Féin tabled over the handing of the controversy over the alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe – was “aimed only at destabilising a Government that is doing its best to make progress on behalf of those we are privileged to serve”.

However, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams accused the minority government of being "devoid of direction, stumbling from one crisis to the next.

"They’ve lost any authority to govern and that authority of course derives from their guaridains in Fianna Fáil. And the Fianna Fáil position is we want to ensure this government survives," he added.

Mr Adams claimed: "The latest scandal to engulf Fine Gael and the so-called independents is caused by Fine Gael's perpetual and disgraceful handling of the campaign of vilification agianst Maurice McCabe and other Garda whistleblowers."

"Fine Gael have lurched from one justice and policing crisis to another.

"Whistleblowers, brave citizens have been a target of campaigns of abuse and harrassment from within An Garda Síochána, enabled by this government's behaviour. In no other modern state would these actions be tollerated," Mr Adams said.

Fumbling

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said that he has had no confidence in the government since it was formed.

"I didn’t vote for this Government, and I have been dismayed by its performance over the last few months," he said.

He repeated his claim that it's a "do-nothing government" but claimed that in the last week "From doing nothing, this Government has now begun to do actual harm."

Fumbling

He said the "fumbling" of the whistleblower issue has added to the agony "imposed on the McCabe family" and others.

Mr Howlin also noted pressure on Mr Kenny's position.

"There are many in this chamber, on your side of the house as well as mine, who have waited for your time as Taoiseach to come to an end.

"Some of them share that front row with you," he said.

"If this debate proves to be a tipping point that brings that end closer, know that you have made a significant contribution to this state," he said.

But Mr Howlin added: "know too, that the events of the last week are not an acceptable way for a country to be governed."

However, at the earlier meeting of the party it was clear that even those most likely to contest a leadership battle in event of the Taoiseach standing aside were focused on putting on a united front.

But many will view the meeting as the moment the starting gun was fired in the leadership race, with both Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris warning the party to be 'election-ready'.

One party source said: “It’s clear it wasn’t the time to have a fight but by speaking up Leo and Simon showed that things are moving now.”

Three people including Leo Varadkar suggested that another meeting of the parliamentary party be scheduled for tomorrow.

“I’d be happy to meet tomorrow or early next week,” Mr Varadkar said, according to sources.

The Taoiseach asked for patience because tonight was the night "to concentrate on the motion of confidence" and other issues would be dealt with later.

Mr Varadkar was the first minister to address the floor, telling TDs that Maurice McCabe and other whistleblowers are “heroes”.

He said the party needs to be ready for an election - a claim echoed by Housing Minister Simon Coveney who spoke immediately afterwards.

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