'You just can’t do that as a minister': Two Green TDs fail to support Govt bill

The position of two leading Green Party TDs hung in the balance after they failed to back the Government’s position on a bill relating to evictions and rent freezes.
'You just can’t do that as a minister': Two Green TDs fail to support Govt bill
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan. Picture: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

One of the Government's own junior ministers abstained on a vote on one of its own bills.

The position of two leading Green Party TDs hung in the balance after they failed to back the Government’s position on a bill relating to evictions and rent freezes.

Green Party junior minister Joe O’Brien abstained on the final vote of the Residential Tenancies Bill which was being debated in the Dáil after his party colleague Neasa Hourigan voted against it.

A senior Government source told the Irish Examiner: “It is very hard to see how his position can be justified. It undermines the stability of the whole coalition. While there may be sympathy for Joe personally, you just can’t do that as a minister.” 

“The decision of a junior minister of a government to fail to support its own legislation is a very serious situation and normally is a signal of a willingness to resign from office,” said one senior government source.

The Green Party were struggling to contain the fall-out of the situation as a meeting of the parliamentary party took place to discuss the impact of Mr O’Brien and Ms Hourigan’s decision.

In a statement released on social media, Mr O’Brien said: “Re tonight's vote: The issue of homelessness is an extremely important one for me, I’ve worked in the area, I’ve been a whistleblower in the area, I have friends who work in the NGOs and I feel we need to do everything we can to tackle it. I’m elected in part to be a legislator.” 

“I wasn’t convinced that this piece of legislation was the best we could have done in what are, to be fair, unusual circumstances. This was mainly due to its extremely rushed nature. I had read enough and heard enough to make it clear to me that it could have been stronger in terms of preventing and reducing homelessness. The issue here was not dedicating sufficient time to a piece of legislation that could have profound consequences on people's lives,” he said.

“I knew my vote was not going to defeat the bill but I felt I also had to give a signal that how it was done was not good enough,” he said.

The Irish Examiner has confirmed that the three party leaders – Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar – spoke about Mr O’Brien’s abstention and it is understood they agreed to allow this remain an internal Green Party matter.

The sense was that it would be unfair to seek his head for what was termed a first offence.

Earlier: Neasa Hourigan resigns as Green Party whip before voting against Govt

By Daniel McConnell, Political Editor

Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan resigned the Green Party whip ahead of her decision to vote against the Government’s legislation on rent freezes and eviction ban for those impacted by Covid-19.

On Thursday in the Dáil, Ms Hourigan backed a Labour Party amendment which would have extended the legislation to all tenants.

The Dublin Central TD has confirmed she took the decision to abdicate her position as her party’s whip before the vote.

She has said she informed her party’s executive council by writing to tell them of her decision.

While Ms Hourigan has said it is not her intention to leave the Green Party, she has said it is now up to the party to decide her fate.

"I have significant concerns as to the impact of this legislation on levels of homelessness across the state. I do not believe it takes into account the scale of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need to keep people safe in their homes. Eviction due to sale is directly in conflict with Green Party policy and so I am unable to support this bill," she said.

Ms Hourigan also voted against the government on multiple amendments to the bill.

Meanwhile, Junior minister and Dublin Fingal TD Joe O’Brien abstained in the final vote on his own government’s Bill.

The fate of Ms Hourigan and Mr O'Brien were the topic of discussion at a parliamentary party meeting of the Greens on Thursday night.

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