THE looming battle to get the budget through the Dáil became even more daunting for Brian Cowen last night as his knife-edge majority was shaken further.
Backbench rebel Jim McDaid, who lost the party whip last year for opposing the withdrawal of a cancer vaccine, announced he now feels free to vote against the Government after a bitter internal party row in his Donegal North East constituency.
Simmering tensions between McDaid’s camp and that of fellow FF TD Niall Blaney erupted at an inaugural meeting of the newly formed Letterkenny-Milford cumann after two Blaney supporters were appointed to officer roles.
The spat saw Mr McDaid walk out of the meeting and fire off an angry letter to FF chief whip Pat Carey stating that he was now ready to oppose Government policy in the Dáil.
“As a result of a farcical inaugural meeting of the Letterkenny-Milford CC last night, I feel compelled to inform you that I have withdrawn my support from Fianna Fáil,” he wrote.
“My views on a general election are well known. I believe it would be in the interest of Fianna Fáil and by extension in the interest of the country,” he said.
“It was made clear to me last night that I am superfluous to the requirements of Fianna Fáil but I will not stand over the party being decimated either locally or nationally.”
The move presents Mr Cowen with a headache as it confirms he can only count on the solid support of 82 deputies in the Dáil – the same number of votes which could be amassed if all opposition TDs and those outside the FF whip voted against the Government.
This would leave the Ceann Comhairle with the tie-breaking vote and precedent would dictate he would back the Government of the day.
Dr McDaid has called in the past for a general election to be held in the spring of next year. The TD believes this would limit inevitable Fianna Fáil losses which would turn into a rout if it clings onto power for its full five-year term.
The threat to directly challenge the Government will put pressure on other backbenchers to do so too.
Sligo Fianna Fáil TDs Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon resigned from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last Augusts in protest at the closure of the cancer unit at Sligo General Hospital, the move resulted in leaving the Government without a majority for the first time since it took office.
The Milford electoral area, where the Blaney support is based, was merged with the Letterkenny area prior to this year’s local elections.
Mr Blaney took over the Independent Fianna Fáil seat held by his father, Harry, and before that by his uncle, Neil T Blaney. Mr Blaney brought an end to a rift dating back to 1971 when he became a Fianna Fáil TD after Independent Fianna Fáil and Fianna Fáil amalgamated in July 2006.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved