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Fine Gael anger after shock Dáil defeat for Government

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Galway West TD Catherine Connolly. Pic Tom Burke

Galway West TD Catherine Connolly. Pic Tom Burke

Galway West TD Catherine Connolly. Pic Tom Burke

The shock election of Catherine Connolly as the Dáil’s Leas Ceann Comhairle last night sparked anger in Fine Gael after Government TDs rebelled in the secret ballot.

Ms Connolly beat Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd by a narrow 77 votes to 74, making the Galway West TD the first woman to hold the prestigious role.

But the result is hugely embarrassing for the fledgling Coalition, which has had a nightmare first month in office.

Last night, Fine Gael suspicion fell on Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition colleagues.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin expressed his surprise at Mr O'Dowd's defeat, saying: "I supported him."

He added: "It is a secret ballot, and that speaks to the autonomy of parliament.

"I can't speculate any further than that.

"I am disappointed for Fergus, who is a very experienced politician."

One Fine Gael source said the result was a "serious problem" and claimed Fianna Fáil TDs disgruntled by the events of the Government's opening weeks may have been responsible for the defeat.

Another Fine Gael TD said that there was "disappointment" at the result.

The TD pointed out: "There were 80 Government TDs in the chamber so at least six didn't vote with the ­Government."

They added the suspicion was that Fianna Fáil TDs voted against Mr O'Dowd while also not ruling out the possibility that some Greens also rebelled.

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A separate source revealed there was anger at how the vote played out with the finger of blame mostly pointed at Fine Gael's coalition partners.

However, the TD also suggested a small number of Fine Gael deputies could have voted against veteran Louth TD Mr O'Dowd as they felt ­Bernard Durkan should have been the party's candidate.

It's understood that Kildare North TD Mr Durkan - who lost out on the job by one vote in 2016 - told Fine Gael colleagues he would be supporting Mr O'Dowd and would not be contesting himself.

The Irish Independent understands that Fianna Fáil TDs were told to vote for Mr O'Dowd at their parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night.

A series of Fianna Fáil TDs who have been unhappy with the first few weeks of the Government last night insisted they did vote for Mr O'Dowd when contacted.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle - a supporter of Ms Connolly - said the result showed the high esteem in which she is held within the Dáil.

Of the Government TDs that backed her, he added: "We'll all be looking to try and figure out who that is."

Mr Pringle said the result showed that in a secret ballot the Government could not whip its own votes.

In seeking the support of the Dáil, Ms Connolly said she was standing on her record as a politician since 1999.

A former member of the Labour Party, Ms Connolly is a fluent Irish speaker and was a strong and forensic questioner on the last Dáil's Public Accounts Committee.

As she sought votes she said: "In 101 years, there has never been a female in the chair, either as Ceann Comhairle or as Leas-Cheann Comhairle."

Ms Connolly argued that due to the visibility of the job it's important that there was gender equality.

She promised to be "fair and just" in the role that comes with a €38,787 allowance on top of the standard TD's salary of €96,189.


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