REBELLIOUS Fianna Fáil TDs were last night given a blunt warning not to try and “save their skins” by putting their constituency needs ahead of the country’s.
As Brian Cowen’s authority in the Dáil weakened further with a backbencher threatening to withdraw support for the Government over health cuts, ministers stepped in to prevent it triggering a wave of protests by insisting there was “no pot of gold” available.
With TDs returning after an 81-day summer break this Wednesday for a tough session leading up to the austerity budget on December 7, the move by Mattie McGrath puts the coalition’s knife-edge majority in further danger.
The warning from the Tipperary South TD came as another opinion poll confirmed support for Fianna Fáil was locked in the low 20s – some 18 points below its showing at the 2007 general election.
Mr McGrath, who lost the FF whip in July after abstaining on animal welfare measures – said he would not support the coalition on the planned removal of acute services at a hospital in his constituency.
His move follows that of Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish who told the Taoiseach last week he could not be counted on to support the Government with health cuts hanging over his constituency.
However, chief whip John Curran put the Government on a collision course with critics insisting it would not be possible to provide more money for health services as there was no “pot of gold”.
And Europe Minister Dick Roche’s accused the rebels of trying to “save their own skins”.
“There is no doubt about it we have difficulties, but when you look at people who supported the Government coming on and saying: ‘Well the cost of my support is X’.
“The most important thing is not their individual skin – it is the nation,” he told RTÉ.
The protests mean the Government’s working majority in the Dáil is cut to just two – and even that relies on the three other whip-less FF TDs deciding to back the Taoiseach.
The threat to the coalition’s stability came as Fine Gael upped the pressure on Mr Cowen by saying it would move the writs for the three outstanding by-elections in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal West in the Dáil.
FG frontbench spokesperson Phil Hogan said it was an “outrage” the Government was spending €100,000 in legal fees fighting a judicial review into the lack of a Donegal by-election.
“It is clear the Government is unravelling. We need an immediate general election,” he said.
With the Taoiseach facing into a stormy autumn Oireachtas session, a Sunday Business Post /Red C tracking poll showed FF is in danger of being reduced to around 50 seats in the next Dáil.
The survey brought a much-needed boost for Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny as it showed his party comfortably in the lead though dropping two point to 31%, FF was unchanged on 24%, while Labour was down two points to 23%, Sinn Féin gained two points to 10%, the Greens were up one point to 3% and Independents climbed three points to 9%.
Labour’s third place was in marked contrast to a TV3 poll last week which showed them well ahead on 35%.
The Red C survey, carried out before an unexpected fall in second quarter GDP, but following a controversy over Mr Cowen’s disastrous Morning Ireland interview, showed 19% of voters had confidence in the Taoiseach.
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