Tánaiste Mary Coughlan will take part in a jobs and education mission to the United States despite Fine Gael’s attempts to force her to attend the Dáil, it was disclosed today.
The Government struck a deal with Labour over voting arrangements and narrowly avoided heaping further pressure on the coalition’s slim majority.
Mr Coughlan, Education Minister, was facing the prospect of cancelling the US trip after Fine Gael pulled the plug on paired voting – a tactic ministers branded unpatriotic.
Labour’s Ruairi Quinn stepped in allowing the Tánaiste to travel and claimed the meetings had significant job creation potential.
Mr Quinn, who will pair with the Tánaiste and not vote in the Dáil on Wednesday, said it was a one-off pact.
“The Labour Party remains absolutely committed to earliest possible removal of Fianna Fáil from office,” he said.
“This Government is incapable of leading this country to economic recovery and the sooner they recognise this and call a general election the better for our people.”
Mr Quinn also claimed the controversy could have been avoided if the Tanaiste had extended the normal courtesy of contacting opposition education spokespeople to explain her absence.
Earlier, Mr Coughlan accused Fine Gael of embarrassing the country with a tactic sure to strain the already slim coalition majority.
The main Opposition party are planning to push for three outstanding by-elections to be held and vowed to leave the Tánaiste without a pair if she did not attend the Dáil.
Under the pairing regime, a TD from one party agrees with his or her opposite number not to vote on a subject. Arrangements are often made to facilitate travel and other ministerial duties.
The Tánaiste was initially faced with cancelling her trip with Enterprise Ireland to St Louis after eight months of planning.
She added: “If that’s the way they (Fine Gael) want to do it well then it shows you that their focus is on being disruptive and not having the better interests of this state, regardless of the Government, to the forefront of their minds.
“People will see it as it is.”
The aim of the mission is to promote Ireland as a place for international students and attempt to tie up new contracts for colleges and language schools.
Batt O’Keeffe, Enterprise Minister, said Fine Gael’s refusal to co-operate on Dáil votes could cost jobs and investments.
“Fine Gael has embarrassed the country and it is very disappointing that the main Opposition party would place political self-interest above the national interest,” Mr O’Keeffe said.
Mr O’Keeffe said one in five international students came from the US and about 70% of all foreign direct investment into Ireland originated in North America.
Mr O’Keeffe added: “It is, quite simply, unpatriotic.”
Meanwhile, Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan yesterday confirmed his party would move the writs for the three outstanding by-elections on Wednesday.
By-elections in Dublin South, Donegal South West and Waterford are widely expected to be held in the spring.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen will face intense pressure in the three elections with the Government majority already down to two Dáil seats.
Further pressure is expected from backbenchers, including two who have threatened to vote against the Government over local health issues. Chief Whip John Curran yesterday warned there was no pot of gold to ease the crisis in individual constituencies.