Martin, Varadkar and Ryan are operating independently, leading to cracks in the Government, writes Fionnán Sheahan
Initially, they thought it was a mistake. TDs sitting socially distanced in the vast theatre of the Convention Centre figured a Coalition deputy had inadvertently voted against the Government. Sure, Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney had done it by accident earlier in the week. No big deal.
"When we saw it first, we thought: that's a bit weird," an Opposition TD said.
Then it slowly became apparent. The first official parliamentary revolt of the new Coalition's life was on.
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan was going rogue on legislation around protection for renters in the wake of the blanket ban on rent hikes and evictions during the pandemic. Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats and Independent TDs had tic-tacked to make sure there was enough time for the votes to happen. Hourigan first went offside on a Labour amendment. Standing there, almost nonchalantly, Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin housing spokesman, just kept on formally pushing amendments to vote as disquiet emerged on the government benches.
Hourigan conferred with fellow anti-coalition deal Green TDs, Patrick Costello and Francis Noel Duffy, and continued to vote against the Government her party is a part of. Worse was to come for the Coalition when junior minister Joe O'Brien abstained on the vote to pass the actual legislation in protest at its failings, as he felt it wasn't strong enough to prevent homelessness.
The affair was yet another example of a coalition that is clearly incoherent, frequently indisciplined and appearing incompetent as a result.
A hapless government fell across the finishing line of the Dáil term. Six months on from the General Election and the world has changed due to Covid-19. Not entirely - the Government is still struggling with housing.
The key issue from the election campaign remains the touch paper that can be lit at any time. It's not the only problem facing the Coalition. Remarkably, it's only five weeks today since the new government was formed. The opening session of the new government has been dramatic and calamitous.
It's been so bad, it's hard to even place the Greens' revolt in an order of hierarchy after the ministerial dis-appointments saga, Barry Cowen sacking, PUP debacle or the myriad 'Mercs and Perks' drip-feed of delusion.
At the heart of the problem is three parties operating independently rather than as a single unit. Spinning against each other, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have been playing a game of one-upmanship on the economic stimulus, green list, schools returning and the pandemic. The public is unimpressed. At this rate, they won't last the pace.
On arriving into Government Buildings during a previous regime, a former official recalls being instructed that party affiliation had to be left outside the door.
"Your job is government and it's over-arching and it supersedes all else. You're supposed to rise above party politics and work for the greater government unit. They are failing to cohere," the former adviser says.
Seeking to reassure his goalition partners, Eamon Ryan says the Green Party agrees you cannot abstain or vote against the Government when you are in that government.
"It weakens our strength, it weakens government, it doesn't work," he says after letting his rebel colleagues off with the most meagre of punishments. Too late.
Tell that to his own party.
The signal has gone out to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that the Greens can't be relied upon with tougher measures. Whatever about Hourigan, whose dissenting position is well articulated, O'Brien's actions as a junior minister are viewed as far more serious. Unlike cabinet ministers, who are voted in by the Dáil, ministers of state are appointed on a decision of the Cabinet.
"It's setting it all up nicely for the Budget. Micheál and Leo have a difficult decision to make now about preventing a repeat. It is up to the Taoiseach and the Government to decide how to deal with a minister who has gone rogue. It's not an internal party matter.
"Otherwise when the Greens bring in their climate change measures for farmers, we'll all go missing in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil," a rural TD ominously warned.
Heaven forfend, but even Shane Ross's dethroned rabble is being spoken of more admiringly.
"The stress-test of legislation is the Cabinet table, not the local Green Party meeting. It's a mockery. This is the government of the country and the public are looking in at it. With the Independent Alliance, for all their leaking and rows, it was actually a good government because it functioned. This isn't like working in a charity shop. You can't pick and choose when you turn up," a minister noted.
Before the Green rebellion, there were question marks over the durability of the Coalition due to the rocky start. Now there are alarm bells going off. The Regional Independent group, headed by Denis Naughten and Michael Lowry, is looking like a far more reliable option with a Budget coming in October. The rapid rise to power of Green TDs, some going from being elected to the council for the first time to being in government in just over 12 months, is now viewed as a liability.
"The Greens are all nice people but they haven't a clue. Most of them never increased parking charges at council level, let alone a budget," a Coalition source said.
"It won't be the Green Party will bring down this government. There will come a point where Fine Gael will say this isn't working."
The Greens' behaviour binds Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together at a time when the old Civil War parties have been sniping away at each other.
Fine Gael's superiority complex was softened by the mess up around airport checks on the PUP and accusations that it's part of the party's obsession with welfare fraud. After the Covid-19 crisis, senior party figures were talking last week about Fine Gael "carving out a distinct identity" in the Government and "a reset of public perceptions to being viewed as highly competent" for which there is a greater appetite.
A week later and the party has been whacked by the ingratitude of the public after putting together the most generous welfare payment in the history of the State to keep society afloat and, borrowing heavily to pay for it with a recession looming.
The notion of the rotating Taoiseach wasn't supposed to have people wondering who is in charge.
Martin has the chair but Varadkar is constantly hovering around. His criticism of the green list undermined unity.
The lack of trust and teamwork between the two parties is best evidenced by the efforts to lay claim to any government initiatives.
Fine Gael is swarming all over the July stimulus package and the domestic tourism subsidy scheme, even deploying its secret weapon of Richard Bruton's ripped body to stake ownership.
Fianna Fáil putting out a video of Education Minister Norma Foley talking about the school's reopening and emphasising the party's "core belief" raised eyebrows within Fine Gael.
With the leadership at it, no wonder backbenchers are going on solo runs.
Working against each other, the three parties are paving the way for their own demise.
The Floating Voter
Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Richard Bruton said he felt mortified, rather than objectified, by reaction to his topless appearance in a promotional video for tourism in north Dublin.