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'It can't happen again' - FF and FG warn against any repeat of voting rebellion

Green Party has removed Dáil speaking rights from two TDs

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Green leader Eamon Ryan, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Green leader Eamon Ryan, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Joe O’Brien: Junior Minister abstained in vote

Joe O’Brien: Junior Minister abstained in vote

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Green leader Eamon Ryan, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ministers have warned the kind of rebellion that saw two Green Party TDs fail to vote with the Government in the Dáil must not happen again.

The Green Party has removed Dáil speaking rights for junior minister Joe O'Brien and Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan for two months due to their failure to back legislation that extended the emergency rent freeze and eviction ban only for those affected by Covid-19. The punishment is seen as little more than a slap on the wrist as the Dáil won't be sitting for the next six weeks.

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Joe O’Brien: Junior Minister abstained in vote

Joe O’Brien: Junior Minister abstained in vote

Joe O’Brien: Junior Minister abstained in vote

The situation that saw Mr O'Brien abstain from Thursday night's Dáil vote - and Ms Hourigan actually vote against the Government Bill - caused consternation among the Green Party's coalition partners.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan last night sought to draw a line under the incident, saying: "You cannot vote against government if you're in government. You cannot abstain if you're in government. It weakens our strength. It weakens government. It doesn't work."

He said he's confident that when the Dáil returns "we'll work well as a team".

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meanwhile said that internal disciplinary matters were for political parties themselves.

"Eamon Ryan has spoken to Minister O'Brien in relation to this. He [Mr Ryan] has taken steps. The parties are different and we want to keep the focus on the policy agenda," Mr Martin said.

However, sources in both larger parties warned there must not be a repeat of a minister abstaining from a vote on government legislation.

One Fine Gael minister said: "If I did it I'd be fired within 10 minutes" and warned another occurrence could make the Government "untenable".

However, they did not criticise the sanction imposed on Mr O'Brien and Ms Hourigan, saying if there had been a "knee-jerk" reaction and someone was thrown out of the party "we could be looking at an election in the autumn".

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A Fine Gael colleague said the situation was "not ideal" adding "lessons must be learned. There has to be a line drawn because it was not a good development... there are plenty of tough decisions ahead".

A Fianna Fáil minister said that a junior minister failing to support the Government "can't happen again".

The response to Mr O'Brien and Ms Hourigan's votes in Fianna Fáil was said to be "more surprise than anger".

But the source also said there would have been elements of other legislation passed this week that their party didn't want "but we voted for it".

Another Fianna Fáil minister said it was better to know now that the support of the two Green Party TDs was shaky rather than on Budget night.

The source said the coalition will have to ensure every other TD that supports the Government will be present for every future vote.

Ms Hourigan's vote against the Government was considered "inevitable at some point", according to another Fine Gael minister, given her opposition to going into government. But Mr O'Brien's vote was "causing a bit more concern". The Fine Gael source said backbenchers from their party and Fianna Fáil may question why they have to support contentious legislation if it's OK for ministers to abstain.

"You wouldn't like to see it again," they added.

Sources in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were reluctant to comment on the Greens' disciplinary action against the two TDs, insisting it was a matter for Mr Ryan's party.

Mr O'Brien explained why he abstained from the vote in Twitter posts on Thursday night. He said the issue of homelessness is "extremely important" to him and he wasn't convinced what he described as "rushed" legislation "was the best we could have done". He said he knew his vote wasn't going to defeat the Bill.

Ms Hourigan resigned as Green Party whip before she voted. She told RTÉ's 'Today with Sarah McInerney' she fully expected to be sanctioned. She said there wasn't enough time to scrutinise the legislation and she agreed with amendments that had been tabled by the Opposition.

Asked if the sanctions against her will prevent her voting against the Government again, she said: "I hope that this just simply won't arise again."


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