DÁIL guerrilla warfare was declared when Fine Gael decided to rip-up the gentleman’s club rule book and go for Brian Cowen’s political jugular – his dwindling Dáil majority.
The pairing system allows deputies to be absent from Dáil votes without posing a risk to the voting strength of their party as it ensures a TD from the other side of the house will also be away to keep equilibrium in numbers.
Every Friday during Dáil sessions, the Government chief whip John Curran meets Fine Gael counterpart Paul Keogh to go through the list of ministers and other deputies that are seeking pairs.
With the coalition's grip on the Dáil loosening markedly in recent months and “stragglers” like independent Noel Grealish and rebel Fianna Fáil backbencher Mattie McGrath putting constituency issues ahead of their commitment to the Government, Fine Gael has scented blood and decided to only apply pairing in very limited circumstances from now on.
The new hardline tactic was adopted at the party’s parliamentary gathering in Faithlegg in September and only allows pairing in the event of meetings of the European Council or North/South bodies which are dictated outside the state, as well as for health reasons of particular deputies. Fine Gael said all other ministerial business and foreign trips by the Taoiseach and cabinet members can be arranged outside of the Dáil sitting time.
Fine Gael insists Tánaiste Mary Coughlan could have rearranged her Dáil appearances to take into account her pre-set travel plans.
As Fine Gael is traditionally the main opposition party, the pairing arrangement usually falls to it.
However, Labour has clearly seen a chance to play the patriot card in the stand- off between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It offered to pair Ms Coughlan if it deemed her reasons for going to the US on the dates specified warranted it.
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