Coalition ‘a shambles’ as stresses mount

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The lifespan of the new government in Dublin appears to be shortening as unrest within the three-party coalition has begun to manifest itself.

The clearest proof of back-stabbing came in the form of the election of the Leas Ceann Comhairle, the Deputy Speaker of the Dublin parliament. The vote on Thursday brought a shock victory for the opposition candidate Catherine Connolly (pictured, left), who beat the agreed government candidate, Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd, by three votes.

While the government had 84 available votes, O’Dowd only garnered 74 in the secret ballot. Speculation over who defected from the government is said to be intense and bitter.

The Dáil register was checked immediately after the shock upset for the government, according to sources present.

“As it happened someone from Fine Gael just said: ‘What the fuck?’ out loud,” a source added. “It’s extraordinary, this government is a shambles.”

Up to around 15 government TDs could have voted for Catherine Connolly, a widely respected independent progressive from Galway.

She made history by becoming the first woman to hold the position of either Ceann Comhairle or Leas Ceann Comhairle (Speaker or Deputy Speaker). She received unanimous support from the Independent group to put her name forward and was backed by Sinn Féin, now the largest opposition party.

The shock result comes amid unease within the coalition over a public reprimand by the former Taoiseach, now Tanaiste, Leo Varadkar, over the handling of a quarantine period for travel to Ireland amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hoours before it was due to be announced, Varadkar said the plan should be ditched if people living in Ireland were advised against flying to destinations exempt from quarantine. It is thought some Fianna Fáil backbenchers may have used the vote for Leas Ceann Comhairle, as a punishment Fine Gael’s perceived undermining of their own leader and Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.

The Green party has seen even greater upheaval, as party leader Eamon Ryan very narrowly held off a challenge to his leadership by deputy leqader Catherine Martin (pictured, right), by a margin of less than 50 votes out of a ballot of the entire party membership.

Mr Ryan won 994 votes to 946 for Ms Martin in a stinging blow to his leadership credentials. Those also weren’t helped on Thursday as he was caught napping in parliament during a vote in defence of workers’ rights, which his left-wing party controversially helped to defeat.

The result of the leadership contest was announced on a day when scores of Green Party members announced they were leaving over the coalition deal with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, including prominent Mayo member Saoirse McHugh.

Those Green Party tensions, which appear likely to lead to a split, have been exacerbated by the shambolic performance of the government this week as it sought to quietly introduce a salary increase for certain Junior Ministers of €16,000 per annum. The allowance was described as “obscene” and “nauseating” by the opposition during angry Dáil exchanges on Friday.

Sinn Fein hit out at the priorities of the government to bring in the pay increases for Ministers amid shortages and financial hardship for medical staff and other Covid-19 frontline workers.

Sinn Féin Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh said the proposal was “really repugnant” to hard-working people. She noted the additional sum was the same value as the average pay of an apprentice. Ms Conway-Walsh added: “Surely €2,884 per week is enough for somebody to live on.”

Her party colleague David Cullinane asked: “Who would have thought that the most oppressed section of our society in terms of pay were three junior ministers? It beggars belief that the government would bring forward this proposal.”

Rise TD Paul Murphy described it as a “scandalous decision”. He said the junior ministers were “already on €124,000 per year”.

He added that “it happens at a time when one in four people in this country are currently unemployed”.

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