Fine Gael senators have been told that under no circumstances can they miss votes in the Upper House between now and Christmas unless it is on “humanitarian grounds” or “because of a death”.
The order was given after the Coalition narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad last week. It comes as exiled Fine Gael members yesterday met for two hours in Leinster House and discussed their strategy for what will be a tough period for the Coalition ahead of the budget.
The eight TDs and senators have agreed to seek independent speaking rights in the coming term. Wicklow TD Billy Timmins will formally propose this for the six exiled TDs when the Dáil returns in September.
Senator Paul Bradford, one of the two expelled senators, said the meeting had been about setting out the group’s strategy for the next few months. Two TDs, Peter Mathews and Brian Walsh, did not attend.
“We will be positive and constructive,” said Mr Bradford. “There is a change required in politics. We will support those in government where it is good for the country and good for the economy.”
However, Mr Bradford said the group would approach each vote in both houses individually and would not necessarily support the Coalition.
Mr Bradford and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames last week voted against the Coalition on an emergency organ donation motion, which the Coalition only won with the deciding vote of the Cathaoirleach.
Mr Bradford said the rebel Fine Gael group’s priorities would be addressing job creation, economic recovery, and the mortgage crisis, among other areas.
“We will decide each issue as it arises,” he said. “This will be done in a constructive fashion. We don’t want it turning into a circus.”
His wife, TD Lucinda Creighton, who lost her position as a Europe minister after the abortion vote, has said the group do not want to set up a political party.
Mr Bradford said that the group would propose speaking rights in the Dáil, in line with Government promises for reform if the Seanad is abolished.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael senators have been warned by party handlers not to miss one vote when the Seanad returns next month. One FG senator said: “The danger is we can’t take any vote for granted now. There’s a three-line whip being imposed. There’s also to be no pairings between now and Christmas, unless on humanitarian grounds or because of a death.”
Pairing arrangements mean senators who are missing get an exemption by being “paired” with other opposing senators who agree to abstain from voting. “It’s going to be very strict from now on, especially leading up to the budget,” added the senator.
A rejection of a bill in the Upper House can force its return to the Dáil and potentially delay its introduction by up to 90 days. Such a move for sections of the budget could have ramifications for the Coalition’s overall saving plans ahead of the planned bailout exit.