Two Green Party TDs who defied the Government and backed a Sinn Féin motion on the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) have been suspended from the party for six months.
Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello were suspended after voting against their party in the Dáil on Wednesday night. The decision cuts the Coalition’s Dáil majority to just one.
The Greens parliamentary party met late on Wednesday and in a statement issued afterwards said: “The Green Party parliamentary party tonight agreed to a proposal to remove the party whip and suspend Deputy Patrick Costello and Deputy Neasa Hourigan from the parliamentary party for six months.
“The decision was made after they failed to vote with the Government on a private members motion. There was consensus on the decision.
“The parliamentary party regrets having to take this step but believes our effectiveness in government relies on unity in every vote. Both deputies will have an opportunity to apply for readmission at the end of this six month period.”
It comes after the two TDs supported a Sinn Féin Dáil motion calling for a public maternity hospital to be built on land owned by the State.
The Government abstained on the motion which was passed by 56 votes to 10 with 69 abstentions on Wednesday night after the Rural Independent Group joined forces with Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) TDs to force a vote on the issue. Sinn Féin also supported holding a vote on its motion.
The Cabinet had agreed on Tuesday to abstain on the motion in the hopes of avoiding a divisive vote in the Dáil. But a division was forced by an unlikely combination of socially conservative TDs in the Rural Independent Group and the left-wing deputies in Solidarity-PBP along with Sinn Féin.
Ms Hourigan had said she could not support the Government decision to sign off on plans to move the NMH from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus amid concerns over governance and ethos at a facility that will be built on a site leased by the State for 299 years.
In a statement issued after voting against the Government, Mr Costello said: “I know this is frustrating for our government partners but the issue of the National Maternity Hospital has been incredibly frustrating, confusing and challenging for many and this motion reflected my own concerns and the concerns of many.
“I could not in good conscience vote against it. I know breaking the whip is a serious issue and as I have said earlier I will accept the sanctions imposed from my action.”
It comes after several Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Ministers and TDs publicly and privately said that Green Party deputies voting against the Government should be suspended from their parliamentary party.
Fianna Fáil Minister of State Niall Collins said it was “corrosive” for different parties in the Coalition to treat their TDs differently “for the same transgression”.
“Government cohesion is integral to the functioning of a coalition and it's not an a la carte,” he said.
Former rural affairs minister Michael Ring said the two Green TDs should face the same sanction that any other Coalition backbencher would face, which typically involves a six-month suspension from their parliamentary party.
“There are many issues that I had to vote on that I didn't agree with but I am in a party and took the party whip,” the Fine Gael TD said. “They're the same now, and we all have to be treated equally.”
Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless said: “You can’t have a laissez faire attitude to government. It’s not Kumbaya around the campfire when it comes to votes in the Dáil. There has to be some form of discipline and it has to apply equally across the government parties.”
Fianna Fáil TD James O’Connor said Coalition TDs should not be subjected to different treatment. “There can't be special treatment for people who are consistently trying to undermine votes. I think it's very hard to understand why the Greens have their own rules when it comes to voting,” he said.
Speaking privately, a Fine Gael minister said: “Imagine if Michael Ring sees people allowed to vote against the Government on this, we need to be careful it doesn't become contagious.”
A senior Fine Gael TD said the same rules that applied to their colleagues should apply to Greens, while a senior Fianna Fáil TD said of the two Green TDs: “Don’t throw them a life buoy.”
And speaking this morning on RTÉ Radio One, Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly said that the Green Party “absolutely” has unity of purpose and there was “consensus” within the party to suspend both deputies and remove the party whip.
“Both deputies realised there were going to be sanctions imposed,” Senator O’Reilly told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“The whip had given clear directions, so we agreed as a parliamentary party, to have a six-month suspension and loss of the whip for six months. We hope that both deputies will return to the fold after six months,” Senator O’Reilly said.
In a letter signed by Ms O’Reilly in April, along with Neasa Hourigan, members of the Green Party called for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to be built on public land.
Ms O’Reilly said that since then, “there have been assurances” around governance of the hospital given since then and that she was “fully confident” terminations and gender affirmation surgeries will take place in the new NMH.
“There are difficult decisions that need to be made when you are in government, you need to make the best decision for women in Ireland. I’m perfectly honest about my feelings with this hospital and I go with that honesty to the people and ask for their vote”.
Ms O’Reilly said she “absolutely hopes” that Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello return to Green Party in full in six months and said; “I have the utmost respect for those deputies.”
Ms Hourigan, a Dublin Central TD, has now voted against the Government for the second time in the current Dáil having opposed rental legislation in July 2020. On that occasion, she along with Green Party Minister of State Joe O'Brien, had her Dáil speaking rights withdrawn for two months.
Mr Costello, a TD for Dublin South-Central, said on Wednesday morning he would support the Sinn Féin motion. “With the ongoing concerns from the public, constituents, and supporters, I cannot in good conscience vote against this motion," he said.
Mr Costello said he understood that voting against the whip was “a serious matter” and said he would accept the consequences.
Green Party sources said earlier on Wednesday that both TDs would face sanctions but would not stipulate what such sanctions would be.
In a statement tonight, Mr Costello said: “I know this is frustrating for our government partners but the issue of the National Maternity Hospital has been incredibly frustrating, confusing and challenging for many and this motion reflected my own concerns and the concerns of many,” he said.
“I could not in good conscience vote against it. I know breaking the whip is a serious issue and as I have said earlier I will accept the sanctions imposed from my action.
“I understand my Green Party colleagues are meeting tonight and will decide on the appropriate sanction for my vote,” he added.
Several Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs speaking privately to Independent.ie in Leinster House said that any Green TDs voting against the Government should face the same consequences they would.
That would mean an automatic six-month suspension from the Green parliamentary party.