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Fianna Fail gets boost from return of rebels

REBEL Fianna Fail TDs Eamon Scanlon and Dr Jimmy Devins are to return to the party in the summer.

The two Sligo-North Leitrim TDs resigned the party whip last August over cuts to breast cancer services at Sligo General Hospital.

Their plan to rejoin the parliamentary party comes as a major boost to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's minority government, which depends on the support of independent TDs to get Dail votes over the line.

It also follows Donegal TD Jim McDaid's decision to rejoin Fianna Fail in the wake of last week's announcement on the cervical cancer vaccination programme for teenage girls.

Despite the lack of progress in cancer services at Sligo General Hospital, Mr Scanlon and Mr Devins will return to Fianna Fail once planning permission for a 96-bed, €50m extension to the hospital is lodged in the summer.

The two TDs held a series of meetings with Mr Cowen ahead of last December's Budget when they sought a commitment on the hospital extension in return for their support in the Dail.

However, the Irish Independent can confirm that Mr Devins and Mr Scanlon are now willing to go further and are almost certain to return to the Fianna Fail fold if Mr Cowen honours his commitment.

The new nine-storey facility at Sligo General will include a new intensive care unit, paediatric unit and radiology unit, surgery theatres and 90 single rooms. The project is expected to be completed in three years.

Mr Scanlon admitted last night that he had ongoing discussions with Fianna Fail colleagues about returning to the party. But he refused to give a public commitment now that he will rejoin the party within months.

"We have been given a commitment on the hospital and I'd like to see movement on that," Mr Scanlon said.


Mr Devins refused to comment on his imminent return to the parliamentary party.

Fianna Fail party chairman John Browne said he'd like to see the two men rejoin "sooner rather than later".

Their imminent return to the party will be a boost for the Government, which is technically tied with the opposition at 82 votes each.

It has been depending for a working majority on the votes of Dr McDaid and the two Sligo-North Leitrim TDs.

Meanwhile, broadcaster and former senator Paschal Mooney topped the poll yesterday when he won the Seanad by-election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Peter Callanan.

Mr Mooney was elected by TDs and senators on the first count with 114 votes, ensuring his return to the Upper House on the Agricultural Panel.

He was Fianna Fail's nominated candidate to contest the election, despite four other Fianna Fail candidates also contesting the seat and collectively securing four votes.

Three votes were spoiled in the election when votes were cast without being witnessed, again raising embarrassing questions about Oireachtas members' understanding of their own voting system.

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