Renegade TD Jim McDaid is to quit politics, it was confirmed today.
The Donegal representative and GP has resigned his seat after writing to Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last week.
The TD, who lost the Fianna Fáil whip after opposing Government policy on the cervical cancer vaccine for teenage girls, is expected to formerly hand his resignation letter to the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil later today.
Staff at Mr McDaid's constituency office in Letterkenny confirmed that letters had been sent and the doctor had decided to leave politics.
The resignation leaves four empty seats in the Dáil with the Government awaiting tomorrow’s High Court ruling on whether it should be forced to hold by-elections within a specific period of time.
Mr McDaid, a former minister, was one of the most vocal opponents of the Government’s decision to limit the cervical cancer vaccine and abstained for a vote on the programme in 2008.
He threatened to vote against the December Budget unless his local Letterkenny General Hospital was protected from health cuts.
It is understood he will also cite personal reasons for his departure.
Labour's Emmet Stagg said the resignation was another nail in the coffin of a discredited and inept Government.
“It is unprecedented in peacetime to have four vacancies in the Dáil and it would be totally unacceptable for the Government to refuse to allow them to be filled,” Mr Stagg said.
“It is increasingly evident that this Government is incapable of giving the leadership necessary to lead the country out of the economic morass and put Ireland on the road to recovery.
“Only the election of a new Government with a fresh mandate can do this.”
Donegal Sinn Féin councillor Padraig MacLochlainn said: “The Government has left the people of Donegal South West without proper representation for 18 months up to now.
“This must not be allowed to happen again in Donegal North East. Donegal is now short two TDs and any notion that the Donegal South West by-election would be held in isolation cannot now be taken seriously.”
In a letter to the Taoiseach, Mr McDaid said a general election should have been called before the December Budget.
He said that despite some courageous and difficult decisions and the need to set tough savings targets no significant progress had been made in reducing the Exchequer deficit.
Mr McDaid said the Government was taking political soft options and not tackling the real issues.
“At this point I believe that it is in the best interests of the people of Ireland that the Government of Ireland has a working majority in the Dáil of at least 20 seats, even if that Government is compromised of parties who have traditionally stood in opposition to Fianna Fáil,” Mr McDaid said.
“And I hope that Government will have the strength to take on their obvious responsibilities, free from the shackles of social partnership and political Dutch auctions.”
Mr McDaid said the country would be gripped by instability and uncertainty in the spring unless a new Government was brought in.
The resignation has damaged further the Government's already tight majority as it can now rely on the backing of 77 TDS, including Health Minister and former PD Mary Harney.
Support is also expected from ex-Fianna Fáil parliamentary party members Eamon Scanlon and Jimmy Devins, as well as independents Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae. Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk votes only in a tie.
There are a number of former Government backers whose support is not guaranteed including renegade Tipperary-South TD Mattie McGrath who was expelled from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party for abstaining from voting on laws to ban the country’s only stag hunt with hounds.
The Government suffered a blow in September after Independent Galway TD Noel Grealish withdrew his support over swingeing health cuts in the west. Wicklow TD Joe Behan resigned from Fianna Fáil in October 2008 over plans to end universal medical cards to the over 70s.
Others who may be unpredictable include Dublin North Central Independent Finian McGrath who criticised the Government’s stance on providing facilities for cystic fibrosis sufferers and Dublin Central’s Maureen O’Sullivan.
The Opposition has 75 TDs – 51 for Fine Gael, 20 for Labour and four for Sinn Féin.
Mr McDaid accused the Government of pursuing the path of least resistance and said it was ``focusing on what is politically possible rather than what is economically necessary''.
He listed several grievances and claimed the Government opted for cuts to frontline hospital services rather than reducing public sector pay numbers. He also criticised Ireland for having the second highest minimum wage in Europe while the workforce is hit by 14% unemployment.
Mr McDaid claimed that only a limited number of the recommendations of the An Bord Snip Nua report have been implemented.
The Letterkenny GP, a former tourism minister, said he believed the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the bond markets had no confidence in Ireland.
“That’s because they see this Government as a temporary little arrangement, that another is waiting in the wings and they await to see the colour of their eyes,” Mr McDaid said.
Government Chief Whip John Curran said he was disappointed to see his former colleague leave politics but wished him well.
“Jim has been a fine public representative during his time as a Deputy for the people of Donegal,” Mr Curran said.
“Serving both as a TD and a minister, Jim has always put the well-being of his constituents, and this country, at the forefront of his political efforts.”
“Although the Government has not being relying on Jim’s vote in the Dail for a period, I have always maintained a strong working relationship with him.
“I am disappointed today that this will no longer be the case, but accept the decision that he has made.”