In a clear sign of the inter- Coalition tensions, ministers broke up without agreement on how to respond to three separate opposition Dáil motions, including the one on the Stardust fire, which claimed the lives of 48 young people.
Super junior minister Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance, who sits at Cabinet, is said to have “passionately” argued the need for a fresh inquiry but was robustly met by demands from Fine Gael for fresh evidence.
This was after a face to face meeting with the Taoiseach before the Cabinet meeting, which ended without resolution.
“It was Finian and Shane Ross against the rest for a while.
“It was tense and difficult, hot and heavy, and it went on for over an hour,” one minister said.
Six ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, confirmed the Stardust dominated the weekly meeting of ministers, and Mr McGrath was “not for turning” and is ready to walk from Government if a satisfactory solution cannot be found.
Some Fine Gael ministers played down the row, insisting that the meeting was “business-like and not confrontational”.
“Had this happened back in September it would have been different,” said one Fine Gael minister. “We recognise Finian’s difficulty and we don’t object to an inquiry in principle. But we can’t have an inquiry just for the sake of it, given how much it would cost.”
However, Fine Gael ministers are not prepared to consider a new inquiry, which they say could cost up to €20m, without any new evidence to justify it and so far that new evidence has not been forthcoming.
This is despite strong claims from the victims’ families and Mr McGrath that such new evidence does exist.
It is understood that Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald offered to appoint an independent person to assess whether the claims of the families amount to new evidence but this was rejected.
Mr McGrath — backed by Transport Minister Mr Ross — then demanded a free vote, but this was rejected by Fine Gael, who demanded a united Government response to the motion which is being tabled by Independent TD Tommy Broughan.
The Dáil begins debating the motion this evening, with a vote tomorrow.
Despite meeting for than two hours, the Cabinet also failed to agree a position on Sinn Féin’s private members’ motion on tracker mortgages and on Fianna Fáil’s motion relating to home care packages.
The Government press secretary claimed ministers “ran out of time” and said the power opposition now wield has “slowed down” the workings of Government.
“When you increase the amount of motions and bills from opposition, allied to the fact that we are operating in a minority government, that enhances parliament ownership of any outcome while also by necessity slowing down the process,” he said.