Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has sparked a major coalition row over his refusal to approve a new road project in Limerick city.
The three party leaders were forced to discuss the €45m Coonagh-Knockalisheen road after it emerged Mr Ryan was seeking to delay the project.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party he would speak directly to the Transport Minister about the potentially destabilising coalition row.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told party colleagues he “made it crystal-clear” to Mr Ryan that the project should go ahead as planned.
However, yesterday, Mr Ryan was digging in and insisting he wanted the project delayed to allow for an examination of how public transport could be incorporated.
There is now fear in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that Mr Ryan will delay further roads if successful in preventing the Coonagh-Knockalisheen road from being progressed as planned.
Fine Gael TD for Limerick City Kieran O’Donnell said he believed Mr Ryan’s position would have knock-on consequences for other road projects.
“If Minister Ryan can stop a very worthwhile project that is over 30pc complete and with €17m spent, you would have to ask what are the implications for projects in other parts of the country,” Mr O’Donnell said.
“We need to get JCBs on the ground and the Tánaiste told me he has made it crystal-clear to Minister Ryan that the road should progress as planned.”
A senior Fine Gael source said: “If this was at another time, it would be an election issue.”
The coalition row accumulated yesterday with the Green Party leader going on the national airwaves to debate the merits of the project with Fianna Fáil backbench TD Willie O’Dea.
It is understood Green Party TD for Limerick City Brian Leddin was originally lined up to debate Mr O’Dea on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland but was subsequently substituted for his party leader.
The Green Party and Mr Leddin did not respond to queries on why he did not appear on the show.
During the debate, Mr O’Dea, who is a long-serving Limerick City TD, accused the Green Party leader of breaching a commitment in the Programme for Government, which pledged to progress all previously agreed road network projects.
Mr Ryan said he would approve part of the project but wanted to review the public transport options for the Moyross area of the city.
“We will build the access and the connectivity but I also want to make sure we get it right and we get the whole transport operation for the people of Moyross right,” he said.
Mr Ryan said he wanted to “look at the other section at the same time to see can we integrate new houses or other new transport at the same time we build the road”.
Mr O’Dea said the minister’s proposal to develop half of the project would turn Moyross into a “rat run” for motorists travelling through an area of the city earmarked for regeneration.
Mr O’Dea also said he would consider voting against Green Party commitments in the Programme for Government if Mr Ryan did not support the roads commitment in the coalition agreement.
“There’s great consternation throughout the area generally, not just in Moyross but right throughout the city at what is perceived as the Government’s failure to fulfil its promises in the Programme for Government,” Mr O’Dea added.
The Fianna Fáil TD got support from his parliamentary party on Wednesday for a motion calling for the project to progress as planned.
Last night, the Taoiseach’s spokesperson said the project was part of the National Development Plan and €17m had already been spent on the development.
“Hopefully a solution will be found to provide for the future of transport needs of the country,” he added.
Mr Ryan’s spokesperson insisted the minster’s position remained the same and he would speak to Limerick City Council about ensuring there would be the “best possible transport system” for the city.