HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly has admitted that he missed a crucial vote for a new Government colleague to become vice-chair of the Dáil.
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd lost out on the position of Leas Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil following a secret ballot last Thursday despite a coalition deal that was supposed to elect him to the role.
The lucrative position which carries a €38,787 allowance on top of the standard TD's salary of €96,189 went to the Galway West TD Catherine Connolly, the first woman to hold the role, who won by 77 votes to 74.
Mr Donnelly told Independent.ie: “I got pulled into an urgent healthcare matter, which is no excuse, as I should have been there to vote.”
The news that a Fianna Fáil Cabinet minister failed to show up for a Fine Gael colleague is likely to put a strain on relations between the Government parties.
Colleagues of Mr O’Dowd say the Louth TD, who was expected to win the vote, is furious over Mr Donnelly’s absence. Contacted on Saturday, Mr O’Dowd said: “I don’t wish to comment.”
However, Mr Donnelly’s presence is unlikely to have altered the outcome of the vote. The Government whips estimate that between six and 10 coalition TDs did not vote for Mr O’Dowd.
Fine Gael sources have claimed Fianna Fáil TDs - a growing number of whom have become disgruntled with Micheál Martin in recent weeks - were responsible for inflicting the defeat on the Government candidate.
However, a number of Fianna Fáil TDs privately identified as likely culprits have insisted they voted for Mr O’Dowd in the secret ballot.
It has also been suggested that a number of Fine Gael TDs may not have voted for O’Dowd because of their objections to the party not nominating veteran backbencher Bernard Durkan who lost out on the job by one vote in 2016.
Separately, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has appointed Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley as chair of the Dáil's powerful Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises public spending.
The position, which comes with a salary boost of €9,500, is one of the most sought-after in the Dáil and traditionally goes to the lead Opposition party.
“This is the first time a Sinn Féin TD has held this important role and is reflective of the change that people voted for in February's election,” Ms McDonald said on Saturday.
"Brian brings an immense wealth of experience to this position and I have no doubt he will do an excellent job in his new role."
PAC is one of five committees that Sinn Féin is to be allowed chair following the allocation of chairs to political parties at the Dáil business committee meeting on Thursday. Sinn Féin TDs will also chair the Enterprise, Children, Health and Irish language committees.
The Government will hold 12 committee chairs with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens TDs chairing the Housing, EU Affairs, Good Friday Agreement, Justice, Finance, Budget Oversight, Education, Climate, Agriculture, Media and Tourism, and Foreign Affairs and Disabilities committees.
The Regional Independent Group, which includes Denis Naughten, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy and a number of other unaligned TDs, will nominate the chair of the Social Protection and Rural Affairs committee.
Every Oireachtas committee chair is entitled to a salary top-up of €9,500 per year.