Serious division between Fine Gael and the Greens on a range of issues is threatening to destabilise the Coalition, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Splits have emerged over several issues including housing reforms, an army barracks, a gas pipeline and stalled roads projects.
Three former Fine Gael ministers openly attacked Environment and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan last night.
John Paul Phelan said Mr Ryan “doesn’t have any understanding of rural Ireland or anything outside the Pale”.
Paul Kehoe accused the Green Party leader of a “sleight of hand” and Charlie Flanagan called it a “gross discourtesy” after Mr Ryan suggested Cathal Brugha Army Barracks in Dublin could be turned into housing.
The fresh Coalition tensions come after it emerged over the weekend that some Fine Gael backbenchers are threatening to withdraw support from the Government. They are angered by the shelving of several major national road projects by Mr Ryan because of funding constraints.
Mr Ryan’s spokesperson acknowledged “some differences of opinion” but insisted there was a “positive working relationship” with Government partners.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent can also reveal that Mr Ryan and the Greens are against the overhaul of planning laws being proposed by Fine Gael’s Junior Minister for Planning Peter Burke.
Mr Burke claims that housing delivery could be accelerated by a crackdown on what he has described as an “industry” of judicial reviews.
He wants to reduce the stages at which a court review can be sought, placing limits on the entities that can take legal challenges, and a new cost-capping arrangement.
But Mr Ryan’s spokesperson said the issue of judicial reviews was being included in the Attorney General’s comprehensive review of planning laws.
“He believes this is a suitable way of addressing the issues with the current system,” they said.
Green Party TD and Oireachtas Housing Committee chairperson Steven Matthews said Mr Burke appeared to be “aiming to exclude people from seeking justice” with “unacceptable” proposals.
“We do have a participative planning process and any attempt to curtail that participation I will strongly oppose,” Mr Matthews said.
Fine Gael sources have claimed Mr Matthews has been blocking his committee from carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny on Mr Burke’s planning reforms.
Mr Burke called on the committee to commence pre-legislative scrutiny of his proposals, which are understood to be backed by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who described them as “fair and reasonable”.
But Mr Matthews said the accusation “doesn’t stand up”, citing the committee’s busy and productive workload.
Mr Ryan also sparked anger in Fine Gael last week after he tweeted a video about a feasibility study into converting the Defence Forces barracks in Rathmines into a major housing project for 1,000 new homes.
One senior Fine Gael source said Mr Ryan had “over-reached” with his tweet. Others claimed Defence Minister Simon Coveney was given no advance notice. Mr Ryan’s allies reject this.
But Charlie Flanagan, the former justice minister and current chairperson of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, told the Irish Independent: “I am accusing Eamon Ryan of a gross discourtesy, I am accusing him of downright bad manners in a social media clip where he seemed to pre-empt a feasibility study on the future of Cathal Brugha Barracks. It was like announcing apartments for Leinster House without making any provision for TDs and senators.”
Meanwhile, former defence minister Paul Kehoe said Mr Ryan’s comments were “bizarre” and amounted to a “sleight of hand”.
He added: “He blindsided everybody on this issue.
“He should be told, ‘No, this is not happening, end of story’ – and I don’t believe the residents would wish to see that being used as a location for social housing.”
However, Mr Ryan’s spokesperson pointed out that the feasibility study was agreed by the Coalition and announced as part of the most recent Housing for All progress report.
“No final decision has been made on this, nor did the minister try to give the impression that one has,” they said. “We cannot have a situation where only highly paid software engineers, bankers and lawyers can afford to live in Dublin.
“By building high-quality, social and affordable homes on this site, nurses, gardaí, hairdressers, childcare workers and many more can continue to build their lives in this vibrant part of Dublin.”
These disputes are among several that have inflamed tensions within the Coalition, in particular between Fine Gael and the Greens, in recent weeks.
Mr Ryan’s opposition to the Shannon LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipeline has also drawn the ire of Fine Gael.
The Sunday Independent also reported that Fine Gael backbenchers, including Mr Phelan and fellow former junior minister David Stanton, had questioned, at a private party meeting, whether they could continue supporting the Government after a number of rural national road projects were not funded for this year.