By Dominic McGrath, PA
Green Party TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello have both lost the party whip for voting against the Government on Wednesday night.
The move reduces the Government’s majority in the Dáil to 80 TDs against 79 opposition TDs.
The two Green Party TDs broke ranks on Wednesday evening to back a motion calling for “full public ownership” of the National Maternity Hospital site.
The Dáil passed the Sinn Féin motion, with the final result 56 TDs in favour, 10 against and 69 Government TDs abstaining.
Green Party TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello had signalled in advance of the vote that they would join opposition parties to support the motion, despite the likelihood of disciplinary sanctions for breaking the party whip.
A Green Party spokesperson 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, after they failed to vote with the government on a private members motion.”
“The decision was reached by consensus.
“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.”
The decision came after the pair joined with opposition parties to back a motion calling on the Government to secure full public ownership of the National Maternity Hospital site.
Despite Cabinet approving the ownership and governance plans for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at St Vincent’s earlier this week, critics of the agreement have continued to accuse the Government of failing to properly secure State ownership of a secular hospital.
The controversy has dogged the Government for several weeks and, on Tuesday, the Government had hoped to dodge a vote on the non-binding Sinn Féin motion by not opposing it.
But on Tuesday evening it emerged that a vote would likely take place, after a vote was requested on the floor of the Dáil by the Rural Independent Group.
The vote was facilitated under Dáil procedure by other parties on Wednesday evening.
Green Party spokespeople had not confirmed ahead of the vote what sanctions might be applied to Ms Hourigan and Mr Costello and the decision to suspend the pair was confirmed late on Wednesday night.
In a statement following the vote, 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.
“I understand my Green Party colleagues are meeting tonight and will decide on the appropriate sanction for my vote.
“Thank you to my supporters but mainly thank you to the many campaigners and advocates on the issue.”
Ms Hourigan had said on Tuesday: “Although the Sinn Féin motion is not binding I will be supporting the motion in order to formally register my objection to the National Maternity Hospital proceeding in its current format.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had earlier accused the Government of sowing “confusion, distrust and unease” about its NMH plan, while independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae accused the Taoiseach Micheál Martin of being the “laughing stock of the country”.
During leaders’ questions on Wednesday, Mr Martin had offered little clue of how the Government parties would respond to the motion.
“I understand the politics of the motion,” Mr Martin told Ms McDonald. “I’ve been around now to understand members’ motions, the motivation behind them, the need to keep Government under pressure.
“I understand that fully. We will deal with the motion in the manner that we see fit as a Government, just as you, equally, would put forward motions with an agenda behind them.
“We didn’t all come down in the last cloud.
“What struck me is the attempts to sort of reverse the truth, to sort of rename the truth, and make a declaration which you’ve been consistently making and hoping it becomes the truth, ie that 300 years of a lease at €10 a year is somehow not ownership. It is ownership.”