| 4.4°C Dublin

FF may struggle to get the Dail votes for new budget

When he became Taoiseach in 2007, Bertie Ahern enjoyed a comfortable 14-seat majority as he defeated Enda Kenny by 89 to 75 votes.

However, in a dramatic turnaround in the political situation, speculation is growing in Leinster House that Brian Cowen may struggle to win the critical vote on his April supplementary budget.

Governments can lose votes and remain in office but if an administration loses a money vote they must immediately resign from office.

The main concern for the Government is centred on the capacity of Independent TDs to support a budget that would impose searing tax increases and cuts in social welfare.

So far, Jackie Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry and newly Independent former FF TD Joe Behan have been loyal Government supporters.

However, the TDs wavered significantly over the civil service levy.

If Jackie Healy-Rae decided the dynastic interests of the family were suited by a no vote, and Michael Lowry and Joe Behan also decided to oppose the budget, Mr Cowen's Government would be right at the edge.

As of now, the death of Seamus Brennan, the departure of Joe Behan, the return of Beverley Cooper Flynn and the appointment of John O'Donoghue to the Ceann Comhairle's office means Mr Cowen can muster the support of 75 Fianna Fail TDs.

This, allied to the votes of the two PD-soon-to-be-Independent TDs and the six Green party TDs, gives Mr Cowen 84 votes.

In contrast, the combination of Fine Gael (51), Labour (20), Sinn Fein (4) and the rest of the Independents (ie Finian McGrath, Michael Lowry, Joe Behan and Jackie Healy-Rae) gives the Opposition 79 votes.

As of now, this means the Greens would still hold the balance of power.

However, the situation may be more complex. If Labour's courtship of Noel Grealish bears fruit (and there are persistent rumours about this involving Grealish's personal self-interest and a local chill factor within FF) and if one FF backbencher, such as James McDaid, were to find it impossible to vote for the Government's measures, the FF majority would be down to one, with the Opposition having 81 votes and the Government having just 82.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Such a scenario would mean Brian Cowen could be left needing the votes of Paul Gogarty, who recently described coalition with FF as being like "lying bollix naked", and Mary White if his Government is to survive.

A hairshirt budget would also certainly cause serious difficulties for highly 'moral' TDs like Trevor Sargent and Ciaran Cuffe. Significantly, such a scenario would also mean that Mr Cowen would also be dependent on the support of a coterie of less than happy backbenchers and some rebellious junior ministers.

Among those who party managers would be concerned about are Noel O'Flynn, the former Independent FF TD Niall Blaney, John Browne, Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher, Mattie McGrath and John McGuinness.

All of these TDs have scant reason to like Cowen, all are in danger of losing their seats and few would want the epitaph of being the men who cut the widow's pension and taxed children's shoes.

These figures also indicate just how significant the forthcoming by-elections are, for if FF were to lose both and should the Independents rebel, then the Opposition would only need to secure the votes of James McDaid, Noel Grealish, or any of the aforementioned rebels to overthrow the Government.

Most Watched